Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Should Draza Mihailovic’s war-crimes conviction be quashed ?

DrazaTrial2

The following commentary was published in Serbian in Danas on 23 April 2015

The testimonies of Slobodan Markovic, Veselin Djuretic, Kosta Nikolic and Bojan Dimitrijevic are all in support of the overturning of Draza Mihailovic’s conviction as a traitor and war-criminal. They put forward a combination of arguments: firstly, the opinions of foreign observers and others sympathetic to Mihailovic; secondly, allegations of procedural irregularities that worked to Mihailovic’s disadvantage; and thirdly, attempts at refuting specific pieces of evidence accepted by the court.

The first of these carries the least weight. Slobodan Markovic devotes much space to opinions of foreign governments (British and US) and their agents that Mihailovic was innocent of the charge of collaboration with the Germans and Italians. Naturally, such opinions should be considered by historians, but they are not a reason to question a judicial verdict – they are simply opinions of interested parties. We do not know how these agents would have fared had they testified, but they are unlikely to have resulted in an unambiguous endorsement of the pro-Mihailovic narrative. Markovic mentions Colonel William Bailey as one such source. Yet Bailey was one of the sources for Churchill’s conclusion that Mihailovic was collaborating with the Italians. According to Bailey’s report as referred to by Churchill, Mihailovic had given a speech to his troops on 28 February 1943 in which he had stated that ‘As long as the Italians remained his sole adequate source of benefit and assistance generally, nothing the Allies could do would make him change his attitude towards them.’ This fact is not mentioned by Markovic, Djuretic, Nikolic or Dimitrijevic.

Markovic mentions William Mackenzie’s 1947 report, which cites the very high Yugoslav wartime casualties, apparently in order to vindicate not only Mihailovic, but even the open collaborator Milan Nedic – presumably in opposition to the high-cost resistance strategy of the Partisans. But this argument amounts to a defence of collaboration, not a denial that it occurred.

Markovic cites Peter Solly-Flood’s opinion that Mihailovic would experience a ‘totalitarian trial’ [totalitarno sudjenje]; this is a political judgement that cannot serve to overturn a judicial verdict. If it did, then implicitly all war-criminals convicted by Yugoslav courts under the Communist regime should have their convictions overturned – Ustashas, Nedicites and Germans alike. For example, German General Alexander Loehr was convicted and executed in 1947 by the same judicial system that convicted Mihailovic. High-ranking Nazis were tried by the victorious Allies via the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which was undoubtedly a case of ‘victors’ justice’ and in which Stalin’s totalitarian regime participated. All these convictions cannot simply be dismissed.

Kosta Nikolic claims that the Mihailovic trial was ‘fixed [montiran]’ He argues: ‘Ako uporedimo da je optuznica imala 15 tacaka, a da je Mihajlovic osudjen po 7 tacaka, to ukazuje da je vec u toku sudjenja otpalo 8 tacaka za koje Mihajlovic je optuzen.’ [‘If we consider that the indictment had 15 counts, and that Mihailovic was convicted on eight counts, that shows that already during the trial eight counts upon which Mihailovic was indicted had failed.’] It is unclear how Nikolic arrived at these figures, but if the court failed to convict Mihailovic on over half the counts, it suggests that the trial was not fixed (or at least not wholly fixed). Nikolic and Dimitrijevic both discuss the 1943 agreement on collaboration between the Partisans and Germans. Yet this is irrelevant: the question here is not whether the Partisans were hypocritical or whether they also collaborated, but only whether Mihailovic was guilty (equally, the fact that the Allied powers were themselves undoubtedly guilty of war-crimes does not invalidate the conclusions of the Nuremberg tribunal).

Veselin Djuretic’s testimony is the least convincing, amounting to little more than a political polemic. He counterpoises the ‘Etnojezicki odnosno zapadnoevropski sasnovano, [model], koji je personifikovao Gen. Mihajlovic i AVNOJevsko koji je razbijao srpske zemlje i potkopavao Jugoslaviju u sustini separatisticko retrogradnog velikohrvatskog i veliko albanskog, koji model je personifikovao Josip Broz Tito.’ [‘The ethno-linguistic or West-European-based model, which Gen. Mihailovic personified, and the AVNOJ model that fragmented the Serb lands and buried Yugoslavia – in essence separatist, retrograde, Great Croat and Great Albanian – personified by Josip Broz Tito’] Such unserious propagandistic testimony cannot have any bearing on whether Mihailovic’s conviction was sound or not.

Bojan Dimitrijevic provides the most serious case for questioning the conviction of Mihailovic, insofar as he focuses in turn on specific points of evidence in the case. Yet he omits key details that do not support his viewpoint. Thus, in discussing Mihailovic’s meeting with the Germans at Divci near Valjevo on 11 November 1941, Dimitrijevic omits to mention that Mihailovic asked the Germans for ammunition with which to fight the Partisans. Yet this is recorded in the transcript of Mihailovic’s speech at the meeting, published in the collection of documents which Dimitrijevic and Nikolic themselves edited (‘Rat i mir djenerala – Izabrani ratni spisi’, Srpska rec, knj. 1, str. 213). Dimitrijevic correctly notes that the Germans initially viewed Mihailovic as an enemy with whom they were unwilling to collaborate, but fails to note that the reverse was not true: Mihailovic viewed the Germans as his enemies in the long term, but in the short term he was willing to collaborate with them against the Partisans; this collaboration was vetoed by the Germans, not by him. The fact that Mihailovic’s Chetniks at times resisted the Germans does not mean they were not guilty of collaboration at other times.

Dimitrijevic admits that following the defeat of the uprising, ‘part of Mihailovic’s organisation in Serbia’ was ‘legalised within the framework of Nedic’s armed detachments’ and that ‘Mihajlovic tolerated this legalisation’; he admits also that Mihailovic’s commanders outside Serbia engaged in ‘tactical collaboration’ with the occupiers’ forces. Dimitrijevic therefore does not deny the collaboration; he simply argues that the Chetnik motives were legitimate.

However, Dimitrijevic does not discuss the German-Chetnik agreements in Serbia, for collaboration against the Partisans, reached on the basis of Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs’s 21 November 1943 directive. They involved several of Mihailovic’s top officers, above all Vojislav Lukacevic, Nikola Kalabic, Jevrem Simic and Ljuba Jovanovic-Patak. Simic, as the overall inspector of Mihailovic’s Supreme Command, renewed his agreement with the Germans on 17 January 1944. The agreement specified that the Mihailovic forces would receive ammunition and medical supplies from the Germans. Three days later Mihailovic ordered the buying of weapons and munitions from the Germans. These events are described in Kosta Nikolic’s book ‘Istorija ravnagorskog pokreta’ (Srpska rec, knj. 1, str. 419-423); Nikolic claims the agreements were ‘an expression of necessity [izraz nuzde]’. Altogether, Dimitrijevic’s and Nikolic’s testimonies and published work support the view that Mihailovic’s commanders across Yugoslavia collaborated with the Germans, which Branko Latas expresses in his own testimony. These crimes – agreements with the occupiers for joint military action; receiving arms and assistance from the occupiers; and ‘legalisation’ within the framework of the occupation – were all cited in the court’s guilty verdict against Mihailovic.

Finally, Mihailovic was convicted because he ‘raspirivao nacionalnu i versku mrznju i razdor medju narodima Jugoslavije, usled cega su njegove cetnicke bande izvrsile masovne pokolje hrvatskog, muslimanskog kao i srpskog stanovnistva koje nije prihvatilo okupaciju’ [‘incited national and religious hatred and discord among the peoples of Yugoslavia, as a result of which his Chetnik bands carried out huge massacres of the Croat, Muslim as well as Serb population that did not accept the occupation’]. This very serious count of the conviction was not challenged by any of the testimonies discussed here.

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Friday, 24 April 2015 Posted by | Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Better hostile democracies than friendly dictatorships

The democratic order that has reigned in Western Europe since World War II, and that has since expanded to include the Iberian Peninsula, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, owes its existence to our wartime alliance with one of the most murderous totalitarian regimes in human history. It was Stalin’s Soviet Union, heavily supported militarily and economically by the US and Britain, that bore the brunt of the fighting that destroyed Hitler’s Third Reich, thereby enabling the liberation of Western Europe from Nazism. In the cause of this war-effort, Allied leaders Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt befriended Stalin and hobnobbed with him; their medias extolled the virtues of his regime. It was not a pretty thing to do, as Stalin’s Western-backed forces carried out genocidal crimes of their own against Chechens, Crimean Tartars and other Soviet subject nationalities during and after the war. It defeated one mortal enemy of the democratic world, only to raise another in its place; one that took nearly another half-century to bring down. Yet history has generally looked favourably upon our wartime alliance with Stalin, as one born of necessity.

In the sixty-six years that have followed the defeat of Hitler, the dilemma has been posed again and again, as successive Western leaders have felt compelled to ally with one monster to contain or defeat another. Nixon brokered a rapprochement with Mao Zedong’s China so as better to contain the Soviet Union. Henry Scoop Jackson quashed a Congressional motion directed against Marcelo Caetano’s Portuguese dictatorship as the price for the use of a base in Portugal’s Azores Islands to transport military supplies to Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Margaret Thatcher enjoyed crucial support from Chile’s Augusto Pinochet during the Falklands War of 1982 against Argentina’s Galtieri dictatorship.

These dealings with dictators often burn the hands of the Western statesmen who engage in them, or return to haunt them.The US tilted in favour of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Khomenei’s Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s; Donald Rumsfeld’s handshake with the Iraqi tyrant during his 1983 visit to Baghdad was widely publicised by his enemies during the 2000s. The US’s alliance with Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan collapsed following US criticism of Karimov’s massacre of protesters at Andijan in 2005. Most recently, Tony Blair’s dealings with the now-embattled Muammar Gaddafi are being loudly trumpeted by his critics, despite the benefits they brought to Britain and the US in the War on Terror.

Those ready to condemn Blair over Gaddafi should ask themselves whether they would equally have condemned Churchill for his support for Stalin in the 1940s. Or whether Britain was wrong to go to the aid of Ioannis Metaxas’s fascist dictatorship in Greece, when it was attacked by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy in 1940. Or whether we would have done better to have left undemocratic Kuwait to Saddam Hussein in 1990. The reality is that, so long as the world is largely made up of tyrannical regimes, the West will be forced to collaborate with some of them. The alternative would be for the US and Britain to abandon foreign policy altogether and become like Switzerland or Sweden. Nobody should need pointing out that it was the US and Britain, not Switzerland or Sweden, that defeated first Nazi Germany, then the Soviet Union.

There is, however, no getting away from the fact that collaboration with dictatorships is discrediting and morally corrupting for the Western statesmen who engage in it. It may be imposed by necessity, but it should not be chosen by preference. Nor do such alliances work well in the long run. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab tyrannies may be long-standing allies of the US, but it was they that spawned al-Qaeda – led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden and the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri. Pakistan, with its dysfunctional parliamentary system and history of periodic military rule, may be a traditional US ally, but its weakness in the face of Islamic extremism and the collusion of parts of its security forces with the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan makes it a much graver security risk for the West today than traditionally pro-Moscow but stable democratic India.

Conversely, though the US may have prickly relations with some of the world’s democratic states, most notably in Latin America, these states do not pose any major security risk. Hostile president Daniel Ortega of democratic Nigaragua may cause annoyance with his support for Russia’s dismemberment of Georgia, but this cannot be compared with the security threat posed by some of our own ‘allies’. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez may be more of a threat, with his collaboration with Russia and Iran, but he is the exception that proves the rule, since he is an authoritarian demagogue who has eroded Venezuelan democracy since coming to power. Even so, it is not Venezuela, any more than Brazil or Argentina, that is generating a global jihad directed against the West. Authoritarian Latin America did generate radical anti-Western movements (or radical movements perceived as anti-Western), from Fidel Castro’s 26 July Movement to FARC, the Shining Path and the Sandinistas; the region has ceased to do so as it has democratised. And at the end of the day, we can live with the hostility of an Ortega or even a Chavez, but God save us from allies such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan !

The current upheavals in the Arab world have been variously described in terms of the fall of America’s Middle Eastern empire, or the revival of Arab self-determination. Yet ’empire’ – if that is indeed what the US exercises in the region – is a burden not a privilege, and should be relinquished just as a soon as there are Arab democracies capable of assuming responsibility for the region, even if we do not always agree with how they do it. Nor should Israel fear this change; it was dictatorships that attacked it in 1973, as it was a dictatorship that attacked our Falkland Islands in 1982. Today, democratic Argentina pursues its dispute over our ownership of the islands by peaceful means. Israel’s best chance for permanent security lies in the democratisation of the region – even if a democratic Egypt proves to be at times less straightforward to deal with than was Mubarak’s dictatorship.

Better hostile democracies than friendly dictatorships. Yet Arab democracies do not have to be hostile. We would do well to assist the Arab struggle against the ancien regime as best we can, so as best to ensure good relations with the Arab leaders who will emerge from this struggle. In Libya, this means doing our best to hasten the complete defeat of Gaddafi’s already moribund tyranny and restricting its ability to slaughter its own citizens, through the imposition of a no-fly zone. We cannot ensure that the battle for democracy in the Arab world will be won, but we can stop fearing its victory. For its victory would represent for us a burden lifted, not privileges lost.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Sunday, 27 February 2011 Posted by | Marko Attila Hoare, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

David Cameron and William Hague look set to help South East Europe

William Hague, the new British foreign secretary

‘Compared with a decade ago, this country is more open at home and more compassionate abroad and that is something we should all be grateful for…’. So said Britain’s new prime minister David Cameron, paying tribute to the outgoing Labour government. Britain is embarking on a new political era, and it is sad to see so many self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ still stuck in the same ideological trenches they inhabited in the 1980s, unable to view ‘progressive politics’ in anything other than anti-Tory terms, and damning the Liberal Democrats for their supposed ‘betrayal’. Cameron presented Britain with a historic opportunity to reconstitute our mainstream party of the right as a party of the centre. Had he failed to form a government, the Conservative Party could quite possibly have moved back towards the right. I have been critical of the Liberal Democrats in the past, but Nick Clegg’s decision to form a coalition with Cameron was a supremely responsible act, rescuing Cameron’s ‘progressive Conservative’ project and moderating any right-wing tendencies that a straight Conservative government would have had. The new British government enjoys greater legitimacy than any other combination arising from the election would have done; as much as is possible, it broadly represents what the nation wants, which is a change of government but not a move to the right. The Labour Party will benefit from a rest after thirteen years in office. Those who see British politics purely through anti-Conservative or anti-Labour lenses are still living in the twentieth century; the formation of a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition shows that old distinctions between ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ parties no longer apply.

Crucially, the foreign and defence portfolios in the new government are in the hands of Conservatives. Of course, Britain’s last Conservative government under John Major had a disgraceful record in world affairs – either failing to halt or actively aiding and abetting genocide in Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda, while undermining our alliance with the US. But not all Conservative politicians are the same – Winston Churchill was not Neville Chamberlain and Margaret Thatcher was not Edward Heath. There is cause for concern at the continued influence in the party of elements complicit with Major’s disastrous policies, such as Malcolm Rifkind and Pauline Neville-Jones. But the signals coming from Cameron and from the new foreign secretary, William Hague, are promising.

There is absolutely no reason why the Conservative commitment to greater British sovereignty within the EU is ‘anti-European’; on the contrary, it is the Franco-German-dominated Euro-federalist bloc that is anti-European, as it seeks to divide Europe between the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’, and to exclude countries like Turkey and Ukraine from the European family. In his recently leaked memo, Hague has made it clear that his government will be ‘firm supporters of enlargement’ and ‘favour an outward looking Europe’.

Hague has also said that his government will ‘want to see a more muscular EU approach in Bosnia’. He has consistently spoken up for Bosnia; last year, he criticised the ‘weak and confused’ EU response to the ‘pressure to fragment the country’ and said: ‘It is moving slowly in the wrong direction and – despite all the efforts and all the bloodshed and all the sacrifices there – it’s moving in the wrong direction without alarm bells sounding in most European capitals.’ He warned that the crisis in Bosnia threatened to derail efforts to expand the EU to include Serbia, Croatia and Turkey, and promised: ‘People think the Balkans are what we debated in the 1990s and now we can forget about it. In fact, it’s a crucial area in foreign policy in the next five to 10 years and will get a lot of emphasis in the next Conservative administration.’ Earlier this year, Hague wrote to his predecessor, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, to express his concern at Britain’s arrest of Bosnia’s former vice-president Ejup Ganic.

Cameron, too, has spoken out for the rights of the vulnerable nations of South East Europe. As early as 2003, before he became Conservative leader, Cameron wrote a stirring defence of Macedonia; ‘the country – and I am determined to call it Macedonia – has a perfect right to exist. The population is overwhelmingly Macedonian, with a distinctive language, culture and history.’ Criticising ‘Greek pettiness’ toward Macedonia, Cameron called for an active policy to support it and the former Yugoslavia generally: ‘Let Macedonia into Nato and guarantee its borders. Ensure there is a speedy framework for getting the former Yugoslav republics into the EU so they can benefit from free trade and structural funds. Recognise the fact that Macedonia paid a substantial price for looking after Albanian refugees from Kosovo during the war – and pay aid in respect of it. Above all, stay involved to give the region the stability that it needs so badly.’

When Russia attacked Georgia in August 2008, Cameron was quicker to react than Gordon Brown and more forthright; he flew to Tbilisi to stand shoulder to shoulder with Georgia’s leaders, and to state that ‘I think it’s important that the world’s oldest democracy must stand with one of the newest when it’s been illegally invaded by another country… We wanted to come to express the strongest possible support of the British people, British government and British opposition for Georgia, its independence and integrity.’ He later drew the parallel between Russia and 1930s Germany: ‘Russia’s pretext — that it has a right to step in militarily to protect its citizens — has chilling echoes from Czech history, and dangerous implications if it is now the basis of Russian policy. Such a doctrine cannot be allowed to stand.’ Far from being ‘anti-European’, Cameron defended Georgia from a pro-European perspective: ‘We should not accept that while the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic States are in Nato and the EU, with their full measure of independence and liberty, other countries on Russia’s periphery that have not yet become members are somehow condemned to exist in a political no-man’s-land.’

Cameron’s audacious move to form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, outflanking the right wing of the Conservative Party and reshaping British politics, indicates that he may be a bold world leader in the years ahead. Let us hope so. The US and EU have dithered over the worsening crisis in Bosnia – as did the UK under Brown. A British government committed to a broader, more outward-looking Europe, committed to supporting and defending the states of East and South East Europe, is exactly what Europe needs.

Thursday, 13 May 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Britain, Caucasus, European Union, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Marko Attila Hoare, NATO, Russia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment