12 September 2002, Volume 4, Number 31
PORNOGRAPHERS OF HISTORY
A program of Radio Most (Bridge) with Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and historians Olivera Milosavljevic, Belgrade, and Ivo Goldstein, Zagreb. To what extent is nationalism reflected in both Serbian and Croatian historiography?
RFE/RL: Many people feel that intellectuals should be held responsible for the lion's share of the tragedy in former Yugoslavia. Many prominent authors, movie artists, actors, journalists, and public personalities offered their services to nationalism during the '90s. Mrs. Milosavljevic, do you think that historians participated as well?
Olivera Milosavljevic: Of course they did, primarily in creating a specific image of their own nations, as well as of other nations. I am talking about a selective presentation of history aimed at creating a positive image of one's own nation and a negative one of other nations. This is what I call the abuse of history.
Ivo Goldstein: In Croatia, in the early '90s -- more precisely in 1993 and 1994 -- a politically manipulated form of historiography flourished. An image was created based on carefully chosen and distorted facts, which suited certain political forces. I call the people involved "pornographers of history," since they view history in an obscene, pornographic way, as a servant of politics.
RFE/RL: Mrs. Milosavljevic, could we say that historiography in Serbia was a servant of politics during the nineties? Milosavljevic: Historiography has more or less always been used by ruling ideologies. However, what nationalism did to historiography through this process of careful selection and distortion in the 1990s is a case by itself.
RFE/RL: Mr. Goldstein, do you think that time has come to sober up and take a more objective approach?
Goldstein: I would say so, but revisionism remains a problem.... Revisionism in Croatian historiography is most noticeable in the treatment of the [pro-Axis] Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and the World War II era.
Revisionists tend to hush up or at least play down incontestable facts about the NDH. The trend started in the late '80s and early '90s, encouraged by the [Franjo Tudjman] government, which included elements of revisionism in its political program.
After the fall of Tudjman's regime, the new government refused to interfere with history writing, both in general and in the school system. This is the big difference between the new government in Croatia -- led by [President Stipe] Mesic and [Prime Minister Ivica] Racan -- and all those authoritarians and totalitarians who came before them.
I would say that now we are in a transitional period, in which revisionism lingers on in some areas but is gradually disappearing. It is unlikely to regain the upper hand, especially if political developments are not conducive to it.
RFE/RL: Mrs. Milosavljevic, is history in Serbia subject to revisionism?
Milosavljevic: Absolutely so, and I do not think that the trend is easing here. On the contrary, the anticommunist trend that is present in history writing, as well as in society as a whole, is aimed at negating not only the communist past, but also [Tito's] National War for Liberation (NOB) and everything about it -- in order to rehabilitate some other movements from that time.
Let me just mention that streets are being named after people whose [unsavory] role in World War II has been indisputably determined. For example, there are proposals that a street in Belgrade be named after Vladimir Velmar-Jankovic, an assistant minister of education and religious affairs in [General Milan] Nedic's [pro-Axis] government [under German occupation]. He used to proudly claim that he managed to get rid of more than 300 "ethnically unfit" high-school students.
Actually, the aim is to erase from Serbian history everything that is not considered ethnically pure or which basically belongs to the previous [communist] ideology. At the same time, national history is being defined exclusively as that of the Serbian people.
RFE/RL: Mr. Goldstein, is there a tendency in Croatia to erase from history everything that is not considered Croatian and emphasize the continuity of the Croatian national idea?
Goldstein: The starting point of revisionism in Croatia is a fetish regarding the state and the idea of creating a Croatian state. Everything in the past that favored Croatian national independence is now seen in the most positive light and uncritically emphasized.
Weaknesses and bad behavior are either glossed over or at least played down. Non-nationalist movements and individual politicians are generally put in a bad light, while their weaknesses and mistakes are played up. There are also attempts to falsify facts and lie.
RFE/RL: What do you think of efforts to reconcile traditionally hostile camps in each country: Ustashe and Partisans in Croatia, and Chetniks and Partisans in Serbia?
Milosavljevic: Those efforts do not seem sincere to me, simply because there were no attempts to put things in an analytical perspective. Those who take such a position now used to glorify the Chetniks and criticize the Partisans.
They have political motives in urging reconciliation now. The fact that such individuals do not speak of reconciling people who fought each other in the most recent war shows that they have ulterior motives when speaking of reconciling rivals from World War II.
RFE/RL: Why are they not interested in reconciling rivals from the last war?
Milosavljevic: Simply, it was their war, the war of the nationalists. Nationalism includes the idea of establishing an imaginary national unity, meaning that all the members of the nation should think alike.
In essence, the demand for national unity is actually aimed at rehabilitating the ideology that was defeated in World War II, and once again in the last war. Nationalists are now trying to help the idea survive in order to try to realize it at some point in the future.