13 June 2002, Volume
DRAZA MIHAJLOVIC -- QUISLING OR RESISTANCE FIGHTER?
This is a recent program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Ugljesa Krstic, who wrote the script for a recent Serbian television series on Mihajlovic, and Todor Kuljic, who is a professor in the Sociology Department of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade.
The recent television series "Ravna Gora Reader" about Draza Mihajlovic, which was broadcast by state-run Radio-Television Serbia, has led to controversy. Some say that the real truth about the royalist commander based in Ravna Gora during World War II has finally been presented to Serbian viewers, while others say that the broadcast is a whitewash of a collaborator.
Mr. Krstic, your point is that the Ravna Gora movement has been unfairly denigrated [under the communists and by others]. According to you, it was the very first organized form of resistance against the German occupier in Serbia. As one of the authors of the television series, you claim that it is a belated lesson in the real history of the period. Why?
My starting point was that one can try to hide the truth, but that will never succeed. Now that the social environment has changed, the time has come for us to say what we know and what the truth about Draza Mihajlovic's movement is.
Mr. Krstic, what do you think the real truth is?
The essential fact is that Colonel Draza Mihajlovic -- who was later a general and a [royal exile] government minister -- was defending the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. I cannot accept that my father, as well as many other people's grandfathers and fathers, were really traitors.
My father was a military pilot who fought for Serbia and Yugoslavia at Thessaloniki. After the war, he was proclaimed a traitor and convicted [by the communists]. I was sentenced to a 12-year prison term when I was only 19 years old. We were both sentenced for no reason at all.
You claim that the Chetnik movement was the first organized form of resistance to the Germans in the occupied Serbia [after the spring of 1941].
I do not use the term "Chetnik." That is a populist term. It was really the Yugoslav army that stayed and fought in the fatherland.
Colonel Mihajlovic refused to accept the capitulation [by the Belgrade authorities] in May 1941, so he went to the mountains in order to fight the enemy. Therefore, he was the first to do so. [Editor's note: Many experts argue that Josip Broz Tito's Partisan movement did not appear on the scene until after Hitler attacked the USSR in June of that year. Tito's official historiography held that the Partisans began resistance soon after the official Yugoslav capitulation.]
Mr. Kuljic, what do you think about the claim that Draza Mihajlovic's movement was the first organized form of resistance to the Germans in occupied Serbia?
After the fall and capitulation of Yugoslavia, some of Draza Mihajlovic's units, although they were scattered, attempted to maintain resistance against the Germans. However, the question is how consistent and enduring that resistance was, as well as to what extent it was antifascist.... Real antifascism brings together opposition to the occupier, to fascist ideologies, and to narrow-minded chauvinism.
In your opinion, was Draza Mihajlovic's movement antifascist?
I think that it was, but not entirely. It had many components that leave any claim that it was antifascist open to doubt.
After the 1941 defeat, the Serbian people did not think about politics any more. There was no such a thing as fascism or antifascism. The defense of the fatherland was at stake. That is Serbian tradition....
The Communist Party of Yugoslavia brought politics into the domain of national defense. Draza Mihajlovic reiterated at least 50 times that he was not a politician, and that he never intended to be in politics....
Politics came into play on 22 June 1941, when the Germans attacked the Russians -- that is the Soviet Union -- and when the Kremlin ordered [the communists] to take up arms, which they actually did on 7 July.
I was 14 or 15 years old when I joined the young people on Ravna Gora in order to fight against the Germans. And we did fight against the enemy. It does not really matter whether the enemy was a fascist or a democrat. He was an enemy who conquered our country.
I think that Draza Mihajlovic's movement, just like the communist one, had a political agenda from the very beginning. Draza Mihajlovic was a representative of the royal government exiled in London, which was engaged in politics and which [directed] Mihajlovic's activities, as well as -- which is even more important -- his war propaganda, just like the Comintern and Stalin [directed] Tito's.
I think that denying that Draza Mihajlovic's movement had its political aspects and making it look like a purely patriotic armed coalition is an attempt to justify his way of playing politics -- which was defeatist, inconsistent, and eventually turned out to be unsuccessful.
And let me say one more thing regarding antifascism. Antifascism is not a mere political phrase. Antifascism was a moral, political, and humanist platform that united the Allies and other political forces during World War II. Essentially, antifascism opposed killing people just because they belonged to another nation.
Mr. Kuljic, did the members of Draza Mihajlovic's movement kill people just because they belonged to other nations?
I think that there were cases of ethnic cleansing, especially in the Sandzak region. If the main goal of the movement was to protect the Serbian population, one can clearly imagine the consequences of such a policy in an ethnically mixed Yugoslavia.
The truth is that in some regions of Yugoslavia -- for example in Lika [in Croatia] -- the Chetnik movement did [protect the Serbs], but that cannot be an excuse for cooperating with the occupier.
What I am trying to achieve is a complex representation of our history, instead of a black-and-white one. There were bright and dark aspects to the history of the communist movement as well.
I am afraid that the "Ravna Gora Reader" TV series is too black-and-white. It portrays the Serbian people and the Chetnik movement as the only victims and the only brave fighters of World War II.
To suggest that one's people and its nationalistic movement played such a role in a country where the Serbs represented less than half of the entire population is not only historically false, but also politically fatal.
Let me first clear up things regarding antifascism. I was a member of the youth section of the Serbia Cultural Club, and there was also the Davidovic-Grol Democratic Students' Club, and we were all antifascists.
But one should not forget that the army officers in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia were not allowed to be politically active. Therefore, Colonel Mihajlovic was not allowed to be involved in politics, and he was not.
And what the [royal] government was doing -- that was not playing politics but carrying out a national strategy.... As far as cooperation with the occupier is concerned, Draza Mihajlovic never collaborated with the Germans, and he did not fly to Zagreb for talks like [communist leaders] Djilas, Velebit, and I cannot remember the name of the third person.
That is the real truth, and this is why our series cannot be labeled one-sided, as Professor Kuljic claims. In any event, the audience does not share his view. A recent public-opinion poll shows that some 88 percent of the viewers like the series, some 6 percent are opposed, and the remaining 6 percent have no opinion.
The issue of Draza Mihajlovic's collaboration is a very complex one. Professor Jovan Marjanovic has clearly said that the movement was not a quisling but a nationalist one because Draza Mihajlovic was a representative of the exiled government in London, which was officially an enemy of the Axis forces. Therefore, from this legalistic point of view, I think that nobody can claim that Draza Mihajlovic was a quisling and that he collaborated with the Germans, although there were cases of collaboration on lower levels....
However, collaboration with [Serbian fascist leader Dimitrije] Ljotic on higher levels started in 1944. It is well-known that Vladimir Lenc, Draza's adjutant, served as a contact between Draza Mihajlovic and Dimitrije Ljotic, as well as that Ljotic's men sent money to Draza Mihajlovic.
The source of the information is Bosko Kostic, Ljotic's secretary. Their relations were secret because Ljotic was much hated by the Serbs as a friend of the Germans. This is why Draza repeatedly refused to meet Ljotic, especially in 1944.
Furthermore, in the summer of 1944, after recognizing the threat posed by the Partisans, Draza Mihajlovic increased collaboration with Kosta Musicki, a well-known member of Ljotic's movement and the commander of the Serbian Volunteers' Corps. There was also an attempt by Hermann Neubacher, a German high representative in Belgrade, who was trying to unite all the nationalist forces in a fight against the communists.
There were also several agreements between [pro-Axis Serbian leader] Milan Nedic and Draza Mihajlovic, signed in Brdjani near Cacak in May 1944. Draza and Nedic even met on 12 August 1944 in Razani near Kosjeric. They made an agreement on coordinating the fight against Tito.... Now, after all these meetings with declared quislings, can one seriously talk about Draza Mihajlovic's movement as antifascist?