Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The Chetniks and the Jews

Last week, the Serbian daily Blic published another contribution to the long-running efforts of anti-Communist Serb nationalists to rehabilitate the Nazi-collaborationalist Serbian Chetnik movement of World War II. Such efforts represent an affront to the Serbian anti-fascist heritage and to all those who survived the Chetniks’ crimes. I am therefore publishing here an extract from my book Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006 (pp. 156-162) that illustrates the anti-Semitic and genocidal character of the Chetnik movement.

As the Chetnik-Partisan breach widened, Chetnik propaganda laid increasing stress on the allegedly ‘non-Serb’ character of the Partisans. From the start, Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic portrayed the Communists as an ethnically alien, non-Serb element. In negotiations with the Germans in November 1941, in the course of assuring the latter that ‘it is not my intention to fight against the occupiers’, Mihailovic claimed that ‘I have never made a genuine agreement with the Communists, for they do not care about the people. They are led by foreigners who are not Serbs: the Bulgarian Jankovic, the Jew Lindmajer, the Magyar Borota, two Muslims whose names I do not know and the Ustasha Major Boganic. That is all I know of the Communist leadership.’ (1) Rhetoric of this kind was rapidly adopted by the Bosnian Chetniks and became more virulent as their conflict with the Partisans intensified. Chetnik propaganda stressed in particular the presence in Partisan ranks of Muslims and Croats, some of whom were allegedly former Ustashas. A bulletin issued by the staff of Bosko Todorovic, the Chetnik commander of Operational Units for East Bosnia and Hercegovina, probably in January 1942, spoke of ‘the leaders of the Partisans from Montenegro, among whom an important role is played by JEWS, TURKS and CROATS’ [emphasis in original].(2) A bulletin issued from the same source in February spoke of ‘a shock detachment of Montenegrin Partisans, under the command of someone called Vlado Segrt, filled with criminal-Ustasha Turks from Hercegovina, some of whom had until recently been throwing our brother Serbs into pits’.(3)

Propaganda pamphlets issued by Todorovic’s staff in this period warned the Serbs in Partisan ranks that the Communists would eventually purge them: ‘And who will carry out this cleansing ? The Turks and the Croats, who will be in the majority. In the majority because the number of Serbs among the Partisans will continuously fall, while the number of Turks and Croats will continuously rise.'(4) According to Todorovic: ‘In the ranks of the Partisans are convicts, outlaws, ne’er-do-wells and Ustashas, who want, on Serb lands, to establish a Communist Croatia in place of the Ustasha Croatia.'(5) So far as the Communist leadership was concerned: ‘They are administered and ordered by the Communist headquarters for the Balkans… In these headquarters sit kikes, Magyars, Croats, Turks, Bulgarians, Albanians and Germans, and occasionally a fallen Serb is found among them.'(6) Jezdimir Dangic’s Mountain Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments denounced the Partisan detachments ‘which are led by the KIKE Mosa Pijade, the TURK Safet Mujic, the MAGYAR Franjo Vajnert and that so-and-so Petar Ilic whose real name nobody knows…’ [emphasis in original].(7) According to the same source: ‘the Partisans and Ustashas have the same goal: TO BREAK UP AND DESTROY SERBDOM. That, and that alone !’ [emphasis in original].(8)

The Chetniks viewed their struggle against the Muslims and their struggle against the Partisans as two halves of the same coin. This belief found its most detailed formulation in a pamphlet entitled The guns of Nevesinje, issued in late 1941 for the purpose of appealing to the Serbs under Communist leadership. The pamphlet carried an endorsement from Todorovic, who claimed it was ‘full of truth’ and entreated his readers: ‘If anyone tries to forbid you from reading it or claims that what is written in this pamphlet is a lie, be assured, brother Serbs, that that person is a Turk or a Skutor [Croat] or their “faithful comrade”. From such as these, hide it and read it secretly. For there is no longer any point in talking to them. They have sold or given their soul to a foreigner – the German Jew Karl Marx and his followers.’ The pamphlet presented the Chetnik struggle with the Partisans in terms of a Serb struggle against the Muslims: ‘If the Communist Party continues to kill Serbs and to accept into its society Turks and Skutors, if it continues to push Serbs into a pointless and amateurishly led struggle with the occupiers, there where the Serb villages suffer after every attack, then the Turks and others in Yugoslavia will choose a Communist regime in order not only to be equal to the Serbs but to be in a better position to them, but then the Serbs, who want to be free and to avenge their martyrs, will choose the ‘regime of the forest’ and become outlaws.’ To this possibility the Chetniks presented their favoured alternative:

When it achieves freedom, a golden Serb freedom, then the Serb nation will – freely and without bloodshed, by means of the free elections which we are accustomed to in the Serbia of King Peter I – take its destiny into its own hands and freely say, whether it loves more its independent Great Serbia, cleansed of Turks and other non-Serbs, or some other state in which Turks and Jews will once again be ministers, commissars, officers and ‘comrades’.(9)

The pamphlet explicitly condemned the Communist policy toward Muslims as an unfavourable alternative to the extermination of the latter, as favoured by the Chetniks: ‘If they [the Communists] were fighting for their people then they would take account of the desire of the Serb people, that the Turks and Muslims be exterminated in or at least expelled from Bosnia-Hercegovina. But they are fighting for themselves and their Party, and in order to win, they are ready to help the Turks not only in preventing the revenge of the Serbs, but in exterminating dissatisfied Serbs.’ The pamphlet further declared one of its post-war goals to be: ‘The extermination or expulsion of all non-Serbs, particularly the Turks, with whom the Serbs never again wish to live intermingled.'(10)

The chauvinism of the Chetniks, and particularly their anti-Semitism, closely mirrored that of the Nedic regime, which in turn was part of the general ideological climate created by the Nazi hegemony. Nedic peppered his speeches in this period with references to a ‘Communist-Jewish rabble’ and a ‘Communist-Masonic-Jewish-English mafia’.(11) Such rhetoric was linked to Nazi policy toward the Jews, in which quisling Serbia was deeply implicated, for the German military decree of 31 May 1941 had charged the Serbian authorities with responsibility for enforcing anti-Jewish and anti-Gypsy regulations.(12) The mass imprisonment of the Jews in Serbia began in August and, as Israel Gutman’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust notes, a key role in this was played by ‘the Serbian quisling puppet government, under Milan Nedic, whose police and gendarmerie assisted the Germans in rounding up the Jews.'(13) The Serbian Jews were then exterminated by the Nazis between the autumn of 1941 and the spring of 1942. Nedic himself appears to have been eager to impress the Nazis with his anti-Semitic zeal, and on 22 June 1942 he wrote to General Bader, complaining of the fact that Serbian prisoners-of-war in German camps were being confined alongside Jews and Communists, and requesting that ‘it would be very desirable if Jews and leftists-Communists be removed from the common camps and kept apart from the nationally healthy officers.’ Consequently: ‘The Serbian government, concerned by this action, would be extremely grateful if the German Reich would take effective measures for a maximally rapid separation, etc.'(14)

The frequent reference in Chetnik propaganda to the ‘Jews’ in Partisan ranks may have been influenced in part by this desire of Serb quislings to please their Nazi overlords. The Nazi Holocaust of the Jews in Serbia was well under way by the time the Chetniks were making the anti-Semitic statements cited above, a fact of which, given their close ties to the Nedic regime, they cannot have been unaware. This anti-Semitism was by no means purely cynical, but reflected the sentiments of many individual Chetniks. Marijan Stilinovic, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, recalls meeting a group of Chetniks outside Ivancici in January 1942 who had defected from the Partisans on the grounds that the Partisan leaders were ‘Jews’ and Vajner-Cica was a ‘Kraut’.(15) Nor did Chetnik anti-Semitism stop at words. As the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust notes: ‘As the Chetniks increased their cooperation with the Germans, their attitude toward the Jews in the areas under their control deteriorated, and they identified the Jews with the hated Communists. There were many instances of Chetniks murdering Jews or handing them over to the Germans.'(16)

Chauvinist and antisemitic themes in Chetnik propaganda were not confined to the winter and spring of 1941-42, but remained a constant in the months and years that followed – an integral element in a movement whose goal was an ethnically pure Great Serbia inhabited solely by Orthodox Serbs. At a rally in Trebinje in Hercegovina in July 1942, the Chetniks denounced the Partisans as being ‘for the Serb nation more dangerous than any others’, whose ‘leaders were for the most part Bosnian Muslims, Catholics and Jews’. They declared: ‘The Serb lands must be cleansed of Catholics and Muslims. In them must live only Serbs.'(17) Dobroslav Jevdjevic, Mihailovic’s delegate in eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina, issued a proclamation to the ‘Serbs of eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina’ in July 1942, in which he claimed: ‘Tito, the supreme military chief of the Partisans, is a Croat from Zagreb. Pijade, the supreme political chief of the Partisans, is a Jew. Four fifths of all armed Partisans were supplied to them by Pavelic’s Croatian Army. Two thirds of their officers are former Croatian officers. The financing of their movement is carried out by the powerful Croatian capitalists of Zagreb, Split, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. Fifty percent of the Ustashas responsible for the massacres of Serbs are now in their ranks.’ Jevdjevic levelled a still more bizarre charge against the Partisans: ‘They have destroyed Serb churches and established mosques, synagogues and Catholic temples.'(18) That Jevdjevic himself shared the prejudices to which he appealed is suggested by his claim, in an internal report of June 1942, that the Proletarian brigades contained many ‘Jews, Gypsies and Muslims.'(19)

A Chetnik proclamation of September 1942 defined the difference between the Partisan and Chetnik movements as being that ‘the Chetnik movement is a Serb national organisation whose goal is to establish a Serb state that will unite all Serbs’, while ‘the Partisan movement is a multinational organisation whose goal is to establish a non-national Soviet revolutionary state in the Serb lands’; the difference between the Chetniks and Partisans was that ‘only a true Serb can become a Chetnik’ whereas ‘an Ustasha, German, Jew or Gypsy may become a Partisan; in other words anyone willing on behalf of the foreigner to participate in the slaughter and killing of the best Serb sons.'(20) It was the belief of Stevan Botic, Dangic’s successor at the head of the Mountain Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments, that the Muslims were supporting the Partisans on an anti-Serb basis: ‘The Turks, when they saw the work of the Partisans, i.e. when they saw how the Partisans mercilessly killed Serbs, immediately saw that collaboration with the Partisans would be very profitable.’ (21)

Petar Bacovic, Todorovic’s successor as commander of the Chetnik Operational Units in eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina, issued an appeal to the Serbs in Partisan ranks in October 1942, which attributed the appearance of the Partisan movement to the fact that ‘the Jews, associated with much of the scum of the earth, fled to our country and began to propagate such better and happier state of affairs in a Communist state.’ The Partisans were guilty of destroying traditional Serb society and morals:

Dividing and ruining Serb villages and Serb peasants; banning Serbs from practising their Orthodox religion; corrupting many Serb youth; teaching children not to listen to their parents; propagating free love among the youth; saying that brother and sister, son and mother, father and daughter can live together as husband and wife; bringing with them many fallen women from the towns – teachers, students, workers etc. – to serve the Communist bosses for the purpose of physical pleasure; and in the wake of their terror pushing many of our honourable peasants to kill each other and to kill all those honourable and national Serbs, who did not wish to join them and accept their bloody and corrupt ideology: godlessness, irreligion, familial corruption and immorality of every kind. (22)

The proclamation lamented to the Serb Partisans: ‘You are still being led by Tito, Mosa Pijade, Rocko Colakovic, Vlado Segrt, Rade Hamovic, Savo Mizera and many other Jews, Muslims, Croats, Magyars, Bulgarians and other scum of the earth.’ (23)

A pamphlet distributed by the Chetniks around Sarajevo in the autumn of 1942 spoke of ‘the Communists whose leaders are Jews and who wish to impose Jewish rule on the world; [though] their and the Ustashas’ collapse is inevitable.'(24) A Chetnik pamphlet distributed in eastern Hercegovina in December 1942 claimed: ‘The Yugoslav Communists who are today so bloodily and heartlessly fighting against the Serb nation’ were a nationally alien, criminal riff-raff; and that ‘the Supreme Commander of all Communist forces in the country is some Comrade Tito, whose real name nobody knows, but we know only that he is a Zagreb Jew. His leading collaborators are Mosa Pijade, a Belgrade Jew; Frano Vajner, a Hungarian Jew; Azija Kokuder, a Bosnian Turk; Safet Mujije, a Turk from Mostar; Vlado Segrt, a former convict; and many others similar to them. Their names best testify as to whom they are and to how much they fight from their heart for our people.'(25) Mihailovic himself informed his subordinates in December 1942: ‘The units of the Partisans are filled with thugs of the most varied kinds, such as Ustashas – the worst butchers of the Serb people – Jews, Croats, Dalmatians, Bulgarians, Turks, Magyars and all the other nations of the world.'(26)

An issue of the Bosnian Chetnik newspaper Vidovdan appearing at the start of February 1943 claimed that Tito’s officers were ‘the Belgrade Jew Mosa Pijade, who was not even born on the territory of Yugoslavia’ and that ‘The other members of the Communist-Partisan staff are mostly Jews, who have very little sympathy for the pain and suffering of our people.’ It complained also that ‘the Communists have promised the Croats a “Croatian Soviet Republic” in which [Croat Peasant Party leader] Macek would be president.'(27) On 10 February the Chetnik commanders for East Bosnia, Hercegovina, Dalmatia and Lika issued a joint proclamation to the ‘people of Bosnia, Lika and Dalmatia’, claiming that ‘since we have cleansed Serbia, Montenegro and Hercegovina, we have come to help you to crush the pitiful remnants of the Communist international, criminal band of Tito, Mosa Pijade, Levi Vajnert and other paid Jews’. The Partisan rank-and-file was called upon to ‘kill the political commissars and join our ranks right away’, like the ‘hundreds and hundreds who are surrendering every day, conscious that they have been betrayed and swindled by the Communist Jews’.(28) The proclamation was signed by Ilija Mihic, Momcilo Djujic, Petar Bacovic and Radovan Ivanisevic. The 9 March issue of Vidovdan described the Partisans as ‘bandits led by the Zagreb Jew “Tito” and the Belgrade Jew Mosa Pijade’.(29) A Chetnik leaflet distributed in the Sarajevo region in April described the Partisans as ‘the scourge of God’.(30)

References:

1.Dragoljub Mihailovic, Rat i mir djenerala: izabrani ratni spisi, vol. 1, Srpski rec, Belgrade, 1998, p. 212.

2. AVII (Archive of the Military-Historical Institute / Military Archive, Belgrade) Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 10.

3.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 13.

4.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 17.

5.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 18.

6.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 20.

7.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 23.

8.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 24.

9.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 25.

10.Ibid.

11.General Milan Ð. Nedic, Desna Srbija – Moja rec Srbima 1941-1944: Izabrani ratni govori, Slobodna knjiga, Belgrade, 1996, pp. 18, 21.

12.AVII Nedic Collection, box 1, facs. 2, doc. 8 (1941 – 1st part).

13.Israel Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, MacMillan, New York, 1990, p. 1341.

14.AVII Nedic Collection, box 1, facs. 3, doc. 38 (1942 – 2nd part).

15.Marijan Stilinovic, Bune i otpori, Zora, Zagreb, 1969, p. 140.

16.Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p. 289.

17.HMBiH (Historical Museum of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Sarajevo) Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 443.

18.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 29.

19.Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilackom ratu jugoslovenskih naroda, Vojnoistorijski institut Jugoslovenske narodne armije, Belgrade, 1954-, pt 14, vol. 1, doc. 114, p. 400.

20.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 5.

21.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 33.

22.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 34.

23.Ibid.

24.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 518/3.

25.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 627.

26.Mihailovic, Rat i mir djenerala, vol. 1, p. 297.

27.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 3, doc. 712.

28.Zbornik dokumenata, pt 14, vol. 2, doc. 31, p. 175.

29.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 3, doc. 859.

30.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 5, doc. 1451.

Hat tip: Daniel of Srebrenica Genocide Blog.

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Friday, 24 September 2010 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Jews, Marko Attila Hoare, Racism, Serbia | , , | 5 Comments

The persecution of Serb civilians in wartime Gorazde

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Review of Savo Heleta, Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, AMACOM, New York, 2008

It is a truism that there were victims among all national groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war of 1992-95. Though Serb forces were guilty of most of the killing and persecution during the war, and Bosniaks made up the great majority of its civilian victims, yet Serb civilians, too, were victims at the hands of Bosnian and Croat forces. It should not need saying that their suffering was no less real or worthy of recognition than that of other Bosnians. Unfortunately, all too often, accounts of Serb suffering have been instrumentalised by propagandists for the Great Serbian cause, who will for example, highlight the killing of Serb civilians by the Bosnian Army at Kravica in January 1993 and in virtually the same breath deny the Srebrenica massacre. Such abuse of victimhood adds to the sensitivity with which any discussion of Bosniak atrocities against Serbs must be treated. In these circumstances, eyewitness accounts of such atrocities by enlightened Serb witnesses are particularly valuable.

In Savo Heleta’s book Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia, we have one such eyewitness. Heleta has provided a gripping, harrowing account of his family’s suffering in wartime Gorazde. He describes the intimidation, murder attempts, vandalism of property and other abuses to which he, his family and other Serb civilians were subjected at the hands of local Bosniak thugs, as well as lengthy arbitrary incarceration without food, dismissal from employment, humiliating forced labour such as street-sweeping, and enforced virtual starvation at the hands of the authorities. Some Serbs fared worse, and were beaten or murdered. In the words, of Heleta’s father, as quoted here: ‘Everyone in this city is suffering, but we are also seen by Muslims as the enemy. Muslim extremists, hit squads, and even the police and government officials have threatened to kill us. The only reason we are oppressed is because we are Serbs. Many innocent people have already been killed just because they were Serbs and remained in their homes.’

Yet Heleta also describes the support and kindness extended to his family by Bosniak neighbours and friends, including the provision of food and shelter that may have saved their lives; he does not portray the persecution as the work of Bosniaks in general. The official persecution of Serb civilians he attributes to segments of the Bosnian authorities, including the city mayor and senior police officials, but mentions that other Bosnian officials, including senior army officers, disagreed with the persecution and tried to stop it, or intervened to protect Serbs. There is much nuance in this account, though this should not be allowed to overshadow the suffering to which the Heleta family and other Serb civilians were subjected. In one graphic passage, he describres the impression created when his parents, emaciated after months of semi-starvation and abuse, swam in the River Drina: ‘When they took off their clothes, the entire beach turned toward us and stared at them. People whispered in disbelief, asking if anyone knew who the two skeletons were.’

Heleta does not shy away from describing the wider context of the persecution of the Serbs: the Serb shelling and sniper attacks on the town; the arrival of large numbers of Bosniak refugees who had been expelled from their homes elsewhere in the region by Serb forces; and the fear that the town would be overrun by the Serb army, as all other Bosnian towns in the region were. He describes how, in response to NATO airstrikes against Serb forces in the spring of 1994, ‘the Serbian forces, incensed by the NATO attack, went on to brutally and indiscriminately bomb the city.’ And elsewhere: ‘The Serbian snipers often shot at everyone – women, children, and old people – even though they were located on the hilltops not far fromt he city center and could probably distinguish between civilians and soldiers. I saw with my own eyes old women getting shot while scurrying across the street with water canisters in their hands.’ Faced with this existential threat, some Bosniaks looked upon Gorazde’s Serbs as spies or as the enemy within, though as the Serbs often pleaded, they were not responsible for the Serb assaults and were themselves at risk from Serb shelling. The agony of the Gorazde Serbs, caught between a rock and a hard place, is starkly portrayed by Heleta.

Tragically, it was the very Serb civilians who stayed in Gorazde and endured the Serbian assault alongside their Bosniak neighbours who were inevitably likely to end up most wholly alienated from their once multiethnic town. As Heleta relates: ‘After thugs and the police had terrorized my family so many times over the course of the previous months, I didn’t feel I was living in the same city. I no longer felt safe anywhere. I didn’t know most of the people in my neighbourhood anymore. Most of them were refugees. Those people I did know I didn’t feel like I knew anymore. I knew many of them hated my family. They lied that my parents were spies, that they should be killed. Some talked about this even in front of us. I started seeing my city and the majority of the people in it in a different light than before the war. They were now a source of degradation, forcing me to lose all connections to the world outside my circle of family and close friends.’

Though the narrator generally comes across as a sympathetic individual in difficult times, he is not uncritical of himself; he confesses that his anger at his family’s wartime treatment drove him, among other things, to throw rocks at Bosniak cars that drove between Gorazde and Sarajevo after the war, sometimes smashing windscreens and windows: ‘It hardly crossed my mind at the time that perhaps those people in the buses and trucks had not done anything bad to my family. Some of them could even have been those who had helped us. Maybe even the man who gave us his last loaf of bread. I was completely blinded by fury.’ This book is valuable reading for anyone wishing to understand how a multiethnic society can be pulverised by war; it was not simply a question of the authorities destroying multiethnic coexistence from above, but of ordinary people – Serbs and Bosniaks alike – responding to suffering and injustice at the hands of officials or thugs from the opposing side by adopting a generalised hostility to the entire other nationality.

Unlike nationalist Serbs who responded to the Bosnian war by embracing the crackpot politics of genocide-denial and anti-Western conspiracy theory, Heleta has, to his credit, spoken out against instances of persecution and injustice in other parts of the world in the years since his ordeal. I do not agree with all of his politics, but he has, in his blog and elsewhere, genuinely attempted to be consistent in his condemnations of killing and human rights abuses, and has spoken out against the regimes in Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan – and in particular over Darfur – while being strongly critical of US and Israeli policy as well. If he has a weak spot, it is in his readiness somewhat to gloss over Serbian wrongdoing; his book makes no mention of Serbia’s role in engineering the Bosnian war, which he blames vaguely on ‘nationalist politicians’ and ‘bad leadership’. He also rather unfortunately describes the Nazi-collaborationist Chetniks of World War II as having ‘fought against the Nazis’.

On his blog, Heleta downplays the killing of Kosova Albanians by Serbian forces in the late 1990s, and complains of the fact that the Western alliance intervened in Kosova but not in Darfur: ‘Western governments are eager and ready to send troops, equipment, aid, and money to stop conflicts in Europe, while conflicts in Africa are ignored. They have done this in the case of Bosnia in the early 1990s, while ignoring the Rwandan genocide in 1994. They are doing this again in Kosovo since 1999, while ignoring the Darfur conflict and suffering of millions since 2003. Whether it is due to skin color, geographic location, natural resources, or effective lobbying, it seems that some people do matter more than others.’ Critics of Western policy are often fond of making this sort of point, though it begs the questions: Should the West intervene neither in Kosova nor in Darfur, or should it intervene in both ? And if it intervenes to stop the persecution only in one place and not the other, is this not better than intervening in neither ? The answer one gives to these questions reveals if one is genuinely opposed to persecution and injustice, or whether one is merely exploiting it opportunistically to score points against the West. I believe that Heleta is sincerely opposed to injustice, but there are a couple of wrinkles in his political ethics that he needs to address. But this does not detract from the value of his moving memoir.

Monday, 25 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nationalism and cowardice

GlavasWe have commented here on more than one occasion on the less than fearless character of our contemporary South East European chauvinists, Serbs and Croats alike. Whether they were forgoing resistance in order to collaborate with the Nazis and Fascists in World War II, beating defenceless prisoners and raping women in camps in the 1990s, fleeing before enemy armed forces or trying to evade trial at The Hague, the national chauvinists have, for the most part, exhibited cowardice as a defining feature. Indeed, the cowardice of chauvinists is often in proportion to their greed for territorial expansion.

So far as the Great Croat chauvinists are concerned, one of their defining moments came in May 1941, when the Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic, newly installed at the head of the Nazi-puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’, signed a treaty that ceded without struggle a large part of the Croatian coast to Fascist Italy. He then proceeded to try to divert the popular anger of the outraged Croatian public away from the Italians and against the apparently defenceless Serb civilian population of the Croatian puppet state – only to find that his anti-Serb genocidal campaign generated a popular resistance, among Serbs and others, that his sorry armed forces were incapable of suppressing, leading him to ever-greater acts of grovelling dependency on his German and Italian masters. Pavelic and his fellow leading Ustasha murderers fled the country in 1945, leaving the remnants of the puppet Croatian army and the civilians who had remained loyal to it to bear the brunt of Partisan retaliation.

Franjo Tudjman, the next chauvinistic despot to rule Croatia, did not approach Pavelic’s degree of murderousness, but he was his equal when it was a question of grovelling to the strong while mercilessly persecuting the weak. Tudjman was terrified at the prospect of taking on Serbia and the Yugoslav People’s Army, and attempted to obstruct and defuse Croatian resistance efforts at every step, while seeking to reach a deal with Slobodan Milosevic at the expense of those further down the pecking order – above all, the Bosnian Muslims. This involved offering Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic bits of Croatian or Croat-inhabited Bosnian territory in exchange for other bits of Bosnian territory. This did not stop the Serbian aggression against Croatia, and Croatia was saved from military disaster and dismemberment only by the heroism of its ordinary defenders and by the military and political bankrupcty of the Great Serbian project. Operation Storm, and the liberation of Serbian-occupied central Croatia, came only after Tudjman had received assurances that it would incur neither a Yugoslav Army counter-offensive nor US displeasure. But just as Pavelic’s surrender to the Italians went hand in hand with his slaughter of Serb civilians, so Tudjman’s slavishness to Milosevic went hand in hand with his merciless campaign against Bosnia and the Muslims. Only naturally, the Bosnian Army, poorly armed though it was, proved more than a match for Tudjman’s Bosnian Croat proxies, and routed them all across Central Bosnia in 1993 until they were ignominiously rescued from defeat by US diplomacy.

After that, the very Great Croat chauvinists who had bravely slaughtered Muslim and Serb women, children and old people proved not quite so brave when it was a question of standing trial at The Hague and attempting to justify what they had done, and were quite ready to obstruct Croatia’s EU accession in order to save their own skins. This glorious tradition of evading imprisonment is now being continued by the Croatian politician and former warlord of the northern Croatian city of Osijek, Branimir Glavas. Glavas, who openly identifies with the World War II Ustasha movement, was sentenced by a Croatian court on 8 May to ten years’ imprisonment for war-crimes against Serb civilians, after which he fled Croatia to Bosnia, whose citizenship he possesses, and is now fighting an extradition battle, while ranting bombastically against the Croatian government and judiciary.

Not all nationalists or even all fascists are cowards, and the type of ‘patriotic’ mentality represented by individuals such as Tudjman and Glavas requires some explaining…

The Nationalist Coward’s Manifesto

1) Words count for more than deeds. The biggest patriot is the one who shouts most loudly about his nation. It really is as simple as that.

2) Ethics are for suckers. Only the naive really believe in principles such as ‘rights for ethnic minorities’, ‘inviolability of state borders’, ‘resistance to the occupiers’ and so forth, whereas the cunning one, unhampered by such delusions, has the edge when dealing with the naive. The nationalist coward wins by violating ethical rules and lying about it successfully.

3) The Raskolnikov syndrome. Since violating ethical rules gives one the edge, it is necessary for the nationalist coward to do this if he wants to achieve great things for his nation. Slaughtering civilians, destroying villages, transferring populations and the like, are an escapable part of nation-building, therefore of being a patriot.

4) Heroism is also for suckers. From steps 2) and 3) it follows that dying or even fighting for one’s nation against a superior enemy is also the pointless, stupid act of a naive hothead; much better for the nationalist coward coolly to reach an unethical, therefore ‘patriotic’ agreement with the occupier to get what he wants for his nation.

5) Being a patriot means being proud to be an arsehole. Since only by doing bad things can the nationalist coward serve his nation, he should not be ashamed to be accused of being a ‘war-criminal’, ‘dictator’, ‘fascist’, ‘Chetnik’, ‘Ustasha’, etc. He should take pride in such compliments ! In fact, he should act so as to provoke more of them…

6) To the victor, the spoils. Having served his nation by collaborating with the occupier and slaughtering civilians, it is only right that the nationalist coward should reward himself for his efforts, by expropriating the wealth of the state for himself and his family and friends, and by appropriating all power within it. A nation must reward its best sons, after all. To borrow a quip from Vuk Karadzic: the nationalist coward loves his country like a swine loves a forest full of acorns.

7) L’etat – c’est moi ! As one who has built his nation, the nationalist coward understands that the nation is simply an extension of his own ego. Consequently, unpatriotic elements who attack him for war-crimes, corruption or abuses of the legal or democratic processes are simply attacking the nation, and should be condemned on those grounds as aliens and traitors.

8 ) ‘Don’t worry, no-one will ever find out’. The nationalist coward realises that other people, particularly representatives of Western powers and members of his own public, are fundamentally stupid. The best way for him to get away with doing bad things is simply to pretend he is doing the opposite. For example, he can spend World War II collaborating with the Nazis, but pretend to be leading a resistance movement. Or he can offer to sell bits of his country to the enemy, while pretending to be defending it ! The cunning village huckster will always trick the clueless inhabitants of the big city.

9) You’ll never take me alive, copper ! Since patriotism requires that one violates an ethical rule or two, it is the worst possible affront to the nationalist coward when he is actually, finally, indicted for war-crimes. Why, he carried out these war-crimes because he sincerely believes in the principle that a patriot has the right and duty to do bad things. And now you’re telling him that he has to answer for these things before an unpatriotic court of law ? Never ! There’s nothing more patriotic than sacrificing one’s country to save oneself.

10) Za dom spremni !

Monday, 18 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | , , , , , | Leave a comment