comment 21 Mar 12

Serbia Endangers Region by Rehabilitating Chetniks

Serbia’s announced rehabilitation of Draza Mihailovic is a fatal concession to the idea of Great Serbia - and to the ideas of the Croatian Ustasha, and all who aim to equalise Fascism and Anti-Fascism.

Stjepan Mesic
Zagreb

There are absolutely no reasons to rehabilitate Draza Mihailovic, as has been announced in the Republic of Serbia. It is the direct negation of undoubtedly established historical facts and a fatal concession to Great Serbian nationalism. It will also feed the supporters of the Ustasha in Croatia and comfort all those who want to equalise Anti-Fascism and Fascism and turn the victors of World War Two into the defeated, and the defeated into victors.

The Chetnik movement was devised as a resistance movement after the capitulation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941 but it never assumed that role. The Chetniks were, to put it mildly, very cautious towards the German occupiers, closely cooperated with the Italian occupiers and together with both fought against the only real resistance movement, led by Josip Broz Tito [for example at the Battle of the Neretva]. That is why Britain, though only in 1943, denied them support and started assisting Tito’s Partisans.

The Chetniks left a trail of crimes behind them. With that, one has to bear in mind that all Chetniks were not Serbs, nor that only non-Serbs were their victims. We must also not forget that a not insignificant number of prominent Chetniks, when they saw that their movement was not fighting for the freedom of their country but turning into a collaborationist movement, crossed over to the Partisans. By this I don’t mean those who towards the end of war accepted the offer to change sides, along with the promised amnesty, [just as, by the way, numerous members of the Croatian Home Guard did]. 

The Chetniks hardly ever clashed with the Ustasha, and at the end of war, when they fled towards the West before the liberators, the Ustasha head Ante Pavelic gave them free pass through that part of Croatia that he still controlled. So much for the enmity between the Chetniks and the Ustasha. No, they were not enemies, they were allies in the crime of collaboration and in the enslavement of their own country.

Because of the crimes that were undoubtedly proven at his trial and because of his collaboration with the occupier, which was also undoubtedly proven in documents, photographs and witness statements, Mihailovic was sentenced to death as a war criminal and executed. It happened almost at the same time as the Nazi regime leadership was convicted and executed in Nuremberg.

To rehabilitate Mihailovic today, to talk about his “murder” and to describe him as a victim of Communism is a gross abuse of the facts. As much as one could say, superficially, that this is Serbia’s internal matter, it is in fact not so. This move will, I reiterate, have dangerous and potentially fatal consequences for a region that has barely set off on the path of normalisation following the wars of former Yugoslavia.

Every rehabilitation of the Chetniks, like every relativisation and rehabilitation of the Ustasha, can only end in catastrophe. After everything we went through, after our successes on the path towards the slow re-establishment of mutual trust and understanding, no one in the region has the right to embark on such a path.

Thus, I resolutely oppose the rehabilitation of the Chetnik leader, aware of the painful fact that the younger generation in Serbia does not know about him what it should know, just as a number of young people in Croatia still do not know what they should know about the Ustasha head, Pavelic, and his quasi-state, the Independent State of Croatia, the NDH. 

The European Union should make a stand on this move announced by Serbia. I can hardly imagine that countries that are prepared to rehabilitate notorious war criminals from WWII are credible candidates for the membership of a united Europe based on the foundations of anti-Fascism. I am certain that this opinion of mine is shared by all anti-fascists in Serbia itself.

Stjepan Mesic was the last president of the Presidency of Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia and president of Croatia between 2000 and 2010. 


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