Thursday, August 9, 2012

Generals and Efendis: Leveling the Field of Sins

Among other well-publicized issues, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić drew more positive attention to himself in the past few days by calling to accountability a fellow minister who participated in the ceremony of unveiling of a commemorative plaque in honor of a well-known Fascist from the World War II era. Namely, Minister Sulejman Ugljanin, a Bosniak from the Raška region, was present at the commemoration of one Aćif Hadžiahmetović, better known as Aćif Efendi, in Novi Pazar. Vučić asked for a special meeting in which the rest of the cabinet criticized Ugljanin for supporting a local move that showed disregard for the anti-Fascist tradition of the Serbian people and for the victims of the Fascist militia leader in question. The cabinet decided it wanted  the plaque removed. Ok, there you go, problem solved. 

Well, hold your horses, this is the Balkans where no solution is quick...

Some of the Western-collaborationist Serbian media characters drew a parallel between Vučić criticizing Ugljanin and his support for the rehabilitation of the Serbian Chetnik commander, general Draža Mihailović, whom the media-dominating Western puppetry in Serbia still considers a Nazi collaborator, based on the Yugoslav Communist determination that Nazi collaborators were all who didn't join the Partisans. Of course, I expected nothing less from the anti-Serb foreign-sponsored cohorts of Serbia's NGO world, but regardless of their quickness to justify any anti-Serb action, a thorough historians' effort should finally be undertaken to clarify who's who of Serbia's World War II bloody waters. Now, I and many other Serbs know a hero of two world  wars and the first resistance fighter against Hitler in the occupied Europe cannot be equated with a Fascist crony, but the Serbian nation, for the sake of understanding its own role in the recent European history and to shut the mouth of the anti-Serb agitators, has to get this part of their history straight. 
Vučić and Ugljanin aside, ghosts of the World War II German occupation of Serbia and the civil war that ensued parallel with the anti-Fascist resistance haven't stopped roaming its mountains and valleys since one side in the conflict, Tito's Communists, was brought into power by the Red Army and Winston Churchill. The Allies won, and the Communists won, and they each wrote a version of history that glorified their noble purposes and vilified their enemies. Fine, every victor in history has done that without much regard for facts or justice. The evil of Italian Fascism and German Nazism was defeated and the Nuremberg trial told the story of the war as the offspring was supposed to learn it. The offspring of the warring South Slavic factions, however, learned several different versions of the story and the fall of Yugoslav Communism in 1990 opened a Pandora's box of unresolved historical disputes that very much affected the state-building and reconciliation processes. 

Without going into the well known historical detail, I want to stick with Aćif Efendi's case versus the cases of Serbs accused by the Communist regime of collaborating with the Nazi occupier. Who he was, the history knows. Tito's Communists executed him for ''collaborating with the occupier'' which was a vague qualification. The local Serbs see Aćif Efendi as an enemy whose  Fascist Sandžak Muslim Militia killed thousands of Serb Orthodox peasants in the Raška region (or Sandžak, as local Muslims call it). This Sandžak Muslim Militia fought as a Nazi paramilitary appendix until it was defeated. It targeted Serbs, without differentiating their Royalist or Communist allegiance. To be clear, the Nazi Germans were the aggressor and the occupier of Yugoslavia as well as the dominant military force, capable of committing the most severe atrocities of all the warring factions. Those who fought alongside it were its appendices with similar capabilities, incomparable to the lesser capabilities of the resistance fighters, either the Communists Partisans or the Royalist Chetniks. These two were just guerrilla, fighting the Nazis and their domestic collaborators such as the Croats or the Sandžak Muslims, as well as each other. To fight each other, each side on more than occasion put aside the fight against the Germans. Aćif Efendi was, no doubt, a German helper and a fighter against the resistance movement of both varieties, enabled to commit mass murder on a scale his Nazi mentors were notorious for. And his Sandžak Muslims had every right to form their own fighting units and side with whoever they thought would further their causes. The Raška Muslims have every right to decide whether the likes of Aćif Efendi were their heroes. They just have be considerate of the feelings of the Serbian majority.

Here I have to introduce the key question: what is the sin, being a Fascist, a collaborator or a loser of the war? Were the traitors those who joined the occupiers, those who collaborated with them, those who turned against the king and the exiled government, or those who simply ended up losing the war?

When Harry Truman decorated general Dragoljub Mihailović, commander of the Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland, a.k.a. the Serbian chetniks, secretly so he didn't have to explain himself to the new Communist government of Yugoslavia who executed Mihailović two years earlier, it was understood at the time that an American president  wouldn't award the Legion of Merit to a Fascist collaborator, but to a proven anti-Fascist. In the middle of the American anti-Nazi war, Hollywood, ever ready to side with the ideals projected by Washington, made a movie about general Draža, called Chetniks! The Fighting Guerrillas, and the Time Magazine put the famed warrior on its front page, celebrating him as the only anti-German fighter in the entire occupied Europe. Thus, Draža was definitely anti-Fascist not only because some Serbs thought so, but because his important contemporaries conceded so and supported him as such. If he was a Nazi collaborator, I doubt the Americans would side against their interests and recognize Draža. Although the Communists, the victor in their rebellion against the legitimate Yugoslav government, executed both the general and Aćif Efendi, their judgement should solely be analyzed from the perspective of them winning and exerting a retribution on the losers. Aćif Efendi was not a Fascist because the Communists executed him, but because he fought alongside the Germans and the Italians. Draža fought against both occupying armies, and the mere fact that his Communist enemy sentenced him to death doesn't make him a collaborator with the occupier but simply the enemy of the Communists.

It is time to introduce another key character, way more fitting this discussion. General Milan Nedić collaborated with the Nazis as he hesitantly accepted his appointment to head the provisional government of the German-occupied Serbia. Even he is still on a level of collaboration below Aćif Efendi because Nedić did not contribute a single fighting unit to the German war efforts against the Allies. Nedić's sin was in that he did not join the resistance against the Germans, effectively impeding it through the German-controlled Serbian Volunteer Corps, thus rendering himself a traitor to the Serbian cause, although his mere position as a collaborator helped save hundreds of thousands Serbs escaping Croatian genocidal policies. Considering this, as well as the fact that the German official retribution policy in the occupied Serbia mandated the execution of 100 Serb civilians for one German soldier killed by the resistance fighters, on one level Nedić cannot be blamed for disregarding the geopolitical and imperial alliances between Great Powers to try and save lives of the Serbian people facing extermination. To save the Serbs, Nedić sold out on his World War I hero reputation. Outside of the fact that Nazism turned out to be an absolute evil, Nedić's blame has to be revisited and analyzed more honestly. Was it better that he accepted the position to act as Hitler's puppet or that the Germans allowed Croat and Bulgarian Fascists to overrun Serbia? He had no obligation to fight for the imperial causes of Stalin, Roosevelt or Churchill at the expense of the Serbian nation, just like Aćif Efendi had no obligation to join Partisans or Chetniks. If Nedić didn't succumb to the Nazi pressure, I wonder how many Serbs would have survived the occupation. While Mihailović is slowly being legally rehabilitated in Serbia, Nedić's rehabilitation is a national taboo. 

One conclusion is that Aćif Efendi is nowhere near the Mihailović comparison and whoever compares the anti-Nazi fighter with a Nazi crony is deluded or malicious and doesn't have the truth and the reconciliation at heart. General Mihailović should be taken out of this discussion altogether. If there are heroes, he is a hero to the Serbian people, no question about that. But if Aćif Efendi joined the Nazis to better the chances of his Muslim brethren in cleaning the area of Serbs or protecting his people against the Communists or the Chetniks, this should be stated and analyzed from the appropriate angle. If he was perhaps wrongly accused of , this should be revisited too. Even if this wouldn't remove the Fascist label from his name, but it would enable Serbia and its Muslim minority to open more honest discussions, desperately needed. 

If Croats can glorify their Fascist past unimpeded and be accepted and protected by the EU as such, then the table in the Fascist-anti-Fascist debate have turned in the whole of Europe and Europe is not so anti-Fascist anymore. Then Serbia has to look past the Communist-borne notions and decide how it wants to view its World War II past. It has to decide whether its Muslim minority can be allowed to celebrate its anti-Serb Fascists. If a case is made that they could, then Serbia should have no regard for those offended by a Nedić rehabilitation either.  Any discussion of a rehabilitation of Fascists like Aćif Efendi must be predicated on the rehabilitation of the Serbian Nazi collaborators like Milan Nedić, Dimitrije Ljotić or Kosta Pećanac. If the Bosniak minority in Serbia is justified in offending the sentiments of the Serb majority by glorifying Fascists, then the Serb majority should start looking at its own Nazi collaborators who saved Serbian lives under a different light. Nazi or Fascist collaboration is in no way greater a sin than actually being a Nazi or a Fascist.

It is just for Serbia to start looking at its own past and teach its own offspring the truth without much concern for geopolitical and ideological mandates imposed by foreign, often anti-Serbian, interests and doctrines.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Neglected by Croatia: The Realities of Dubrovnik

The political battle to build the Pelješac bridge that would connect the Dubrovnik region with the rest of Croatia has taken on a new dimension: the Free Dalmatia newspaper from Split published a story (link in Croatian) warning of the increase in the separatist mood among the Dubrovnik population due to the negligence of Croatia's authorities towards this remote region.

How is this a topic for the Serbian Roundup, you ask. Dubrovnik was a Serb-inhabited medieval city whose survival through centuries of foreign occupation of other Serb lands ensured the survival of great historical and cultural heritage, invaluable to Serbdom. Since its inclusion in the Croatian Banovina in 1939 and in the Independent State of Croatia, it's been divesting itself of its Serb Dalmatian character. Now it is a part of the Republic of Croatia and almost no Serbs live there, but it is still a part of the Serb cultural heritage and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The mere fact that it belongs to Croatia as of lately cannot erase the Serb millennium of its ethnic character and its political independence. As a historic Serb city, it is, of course, of interest to the Serbian Roundup.

Now, this is not a call to return Dubrovnik to its Serb origins in any way. Serbian dreams and Dubrovnik realities diverged significantly after the Croat genocide against Serbs of 1941-1945, perhaps even before that. After Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the Dubrovnik Republic in 1808, according to the local lore the Dubrovnik gentry decided to stop having children as they refused to raise offspring without freedom. Many did heed that call and entire noble families died out. The Croat genocide against the Serbs did not exclude the Dubrovnik area and most of the Serb inhabitants were eradicated from the city and from the vicinity. The Austro-Hungarian abolition of Serb rights in 1908, the croatization of the Serb Catholics, the influx of Croats from other parts of Dalmatia, the genocide against Serbs and the revival of Croat ultra-nationalism and chauvinism of the 1990s turned Dubrovnik into an all-Croat area. Serbs can't stake a claim to it anymore and, obviously, Dubrovnik is neither a Serbian problem nor on the radar as a Serbian political issue.

Although this article in Free Dalmatia was clearly a lobbying effort aimed at Croatia's government to push through with the stalled building of a bridge to the Peljesac peninsula, probably aided by financial interests that are in a hurry to make good on their investments, it cited some definite reasons for dissatisfaction in Dubrovnik, which, coupled with Dubrovnik historic statehood and independence, can indeed increase separatist tendencies. Namely, the Dubrovnik coast, since it is not a Croat historic land, is geographically isolated from the rest of Croatia, with very weak transportation connections, which, according to Free Dalmatia, significantly deteriorated after Croatia's independence in 1992, mainly due to neglect. It is not easy for Croatia to maintain the connection with Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik was an independent merchant state, a rival of Venice, and its overland trade networks, as well as other relationships, ethnic and cultural, were mainly leaning on its most natural logistical partner, the Serb hinterland of Herzegovina, Bosnia, Zeta and Rascia. The inhabitants of Dubrovnik were mostly Serbs of Hum (Herzegovina) and their descendants, the most famous of them being Ruđer Bošković (Ruggero Boscovich), one of the most important European astronomers of the 18th century. The Ottomans, after the conquest of the Serb hinterland, knowing the significance of Dubrovnik's Western connections allowed its trade with the hinterland to continued unimpeded. All this has been well-documented in the Dubrovnik Archive, one of the most precious resources for students of Serbian history. Dubrovnik is simply not near the rest of Croatia and that, apparently, is a problem.

Free Dalmatia sources cited not only a lack of transportation connections, especially during the off-season months between October and April when Dubrovnik is not as important to Croatia's economy as during summer, a lack of drinking water, sanitation services, including the sewer system, and the increased transfer of local institutions of political and economic self-governance out of Dubrovnik and into Split and the port of Ploče. Corruption and budget misappropriations are rampant, according to the article. Now, we are not talking about some fishing village where tourists like to come, bathe and eat figs; this is Dubrovnik, whose Old City - under UNESCO protection - is one of the pearls of the Mediterranean and whose history and architectural beauty transcends politics of Zagreb or Split. Increasingly a remote province and a milking cow, Dubrovnik and its citizens like artist Davor Lucianović, who contributed to the Free Dalmatia story, are right to feel aggrieved.

The Free Dalmatia article suggested: if you don't build this bridge, expect Dubrovnik to request more autonomy. Since Dubrovnik's history of independence is much longer than Croatia's own, this would not be an unreasonable request even if Free Dalmatia's only motivation was to lobby for the bridge.

Even if Dubrovnik became completely croatized during the fascist Independent State of Croatia, it is not unreasonable to find popular dissatisfaction in this historically independent region, especially with the prospects of economic prosperity an increased independence would carry. A renewal of the spirit of independence among the people of Dubrovnik would, due to its traditional outlooks and geographic position, also renew its historic role as a cultural and economic bridge between the quarreling states of the Southeast Europe. Croatia supports secession in neighboring countries, and although one shouldn't deduce too much from one article, I'm sure the region wouldn't stand in the way of Dubrovnik gaining more independence from Croatia. A case in point is the international affair surrounding the very bridge that started all this, with Istanbul, I mean, Sarajevo, conveniently invoking an agreement between Franjo Tuđman and Alija Izetbegović to block Croatia from connecting with Dubrovnik.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kill the Beast: Grading the Regime Change in Serbia

Surrounded with cheers, hope, suspicion, hypocrisy, sycophancy, indifference, loathing and fear, Ivica Dačić and Aleksandar Vučić have grabbed the levers of state power in Serbia with a necessary resolve in the past week. The road from a Milošević protege who narrowly escaped lustration to the Prime Minister of Serbia was long for Dačić. The road from a Šešelj protege to the state intelligence czar and the Minister of Defense was even rougher and longer for Vučić. Who would've thought on the eve of the parliamentary election on May 6th that these two men would stand together in the ouster of the corrupt regime of Boris Tadić, which, in its own blinded self-righteousness, thought it was destined to rule Serbia into the ground?

To round up all the twists and turns in Serbia's post-election coalition building, dismantling, patching and finally corralling, one would be remiss to start with May 6th, let alone on May 20th. If I wanted to analyze the fall of Boris Tadić's Western client regime, I'd had to revisit the December 9th rejection of Serbia's EU candidacy and the subsequent humanitarian sortie of Russian Ambassador Konuzin into North Kosovo, i.e. the EU-Russia Summit in Brussels that accompanied it. If we look at this series of events as a watershed moment, the victory of Tomislav Nikolić should be seen as the spring of the river that is Serbia liberated from Boris Tadić.

Since the Fifth of October of 2000, Serbia hasn't seen a change so dramatic. When the election fraud not only marred the results but also to devalue the democratic process and to discourage any hope for a regime change in Serbia, the unexpected victory of Nikolić unleashed a chain of events that can hopefully provide a chance for Serbia's salvation and recovery. The victory wasn't unexpected because Nikolić was an underdog, but because Tadić was inclined to steal the election.
From this perspective, wiser by a couple of months, there are several questions that must be answered before Serbia can grapple with the effects of the regime change.

First, how much of a regime change was it really?
Commentators on both sides of the aisle question, for differing reasons, the direction of a regime change in which almost half of the previous administration remains in office and in which some of the most reputedly corrupt public figures of the past 12 years get to not only go unpunished, but to stay in power. Mlađan Dinkić, for example, served as the Governor of the National Bank of Serbia, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Economy in previous administrations - all positions of key relevance to the economy that is lying in ruins as a consequence. Dačić himself was the key ally to Boris Tadić since 2008. On top of these two, an array of former Tadić allies has crossed over to the winning team. What the hell is Vučić, the new head of Serbian Progressive Party, thinking taking in all these no-good appendices of the corrupt regime he invested 12 years into beating? Well, whoever thought the Progressives, the plain-clothed derivative of Vojislav Šešelj's Radicals with 25 percent of popular support, can just barge in and bring down the system created by a corrupt regime with such a firm hold of the state and economic power, was plain naive. Tentacles of the power Tadić's Democratic Party was an umbrella for extended much deeper than the power to simply cut them off at will. The Democrats were the octopus, even if all the tentacles were not their own, e.g. Dinkić and his clique. To change the regime, one had to kill the beast at its helm and it does appear that the Democrat beast is not only out of power on thenational level and gradually being pushed out in most municipalities it had held, but its nervous system has become a wreck due to betrayals of allies and infighting. If the ouster of the ruling party is a regime change, then the Progressives, with the willing cooperation of the former junior partners in the regime, did pull it off. Just compare the power of Boris Tadić and his cohorts before and after May 20th.

Second, outside of a violent street uprising or a coup d'etat, how does one conduct a total regime change? Gradually, of course.
Nikolić and Vučić correctly understood that the election victory was just a ticket into the fray, not a championship belt. If the goal was to kill the beast, one had to be a fool to engage it in a hand-to-hand combat, but had to instead utilize everything at his disposal, even Mlađan Dinkić, if that's what it took to cut the legs from underneath the beast. And it did. What were the alternatives? Street protests over the well-documented election fraud, which could have led to instability, unpredictable outcomes and more suffering of the people quick to demolish, but slow to build. Co-habitation, meaning Nikolić as an ineffective president with constitutionally limited power, ignored, sabotaged or smeared by the Democrat-led cabinet, Democrat-controlled institutions and Democrat-owned media. If the Progressives abstained from coalition-building out of moral considerations, Boris Tadić would've kept on destroying the country. It wasn't much of a choice, one had to admit. It's better to have Dinkić as a junior, junior partner than Tadić as the Prime Minister.

Third, are the Progressives, combined with Dačić's Socialists and Dinkić's United Regions, ideologically and behaviorally more of the same in comparison to Tadić's regime? In short, no.
Some commentators tend to base this notion on the EU-related rhetoric. True, the Progressives are stuck on the pro-EU rhetoric as well. True, the Socialists have been beating the EU drums, although a lot more shyly than the Democrats, for the past four years. True, Dinkić, with his ideologically amorphous coalition/party, has been in the service of EU and every other foreign interest in Serbia for as long as the Democrats have. It is also true that this time around, Dinkić is showing significantly less inclination to act independently, out of fear of falling out of the line with the coalition and falling victim to the Vučić-promised anti-corruption offensive, or due to an inexplicable change of heart (just kidding). It is also true that Dačić finds himself in an ideologically way more comfortable coalition this time around, due to his somewhat nationalist leanings and a chance for his Socialists to actually replace the Democrats as the main ostensibly leftist party on the political scene. (If you wonder how a party can be nationalist and leftist at the same time, it is time for you to stop thinking about Left and Right in the conventional terms and start observing the dichotomy as merely elementary to the globalist-anti-globalist spectrum.) Finally, we'd be fools if we thought that it is enough for Šešelj's disciples to change their party emblem and to declare themselves pro-EU, to actually and completely abandon the Radical pillars they had been building themselves for two decades. When Dačić made the last-minute deal with Tadić in 2008, breaking the coalition promise to Nikolić and Vojislav Koštunica, it became clear that the West will never allow the Radical Party to get into power and that some kind of transformation was necessary. Now, I'm not saying Nikolić and Vučić would absolutely reveal their true Radical self once they took the helm. This game is way more serious than that, the powers that are may be weaker than in 2008, but will not allow Serbian nationalists to play them for fools. The line Nikolić and Vučić are walking is very thin. Still, if we base our conclusions in the rhetoric only, Nikolić and, to a slightly lesser degree, Vučić, have shown significantly more of a nationalist strain than it could have been expected from someone who'd continue Tadić's anti-Serbian policies.

To make any sustainable improvements, the new administration had to wrestle away the control of the levers of power from the corrupt, but deeply entrenched Democrat machine. It was neither an easy task, nor would it be smart to kid oneself that it is a finished task. At this point, nothing is more important for Serbia than to minimize the influence of the Democrat Party and the foreign-sponsored NGO networks in Serbia. To actually judge the new administration against the old one, the public needs to be fully apprehensive of the fact that Serbia cannot hope to improve without halting the downward spiral first. It would be a grave mistake to expect miracles, economic, Kosovo-related or in foreign policy, from this administration; if they prevent the crash which the Tadić Democrats have pushed the country very close to, that will be a miracle enough. Although there are more important issues than corruption, if ten corrupt politicians or businessmen actually end up going to jail, and both God and the entire Serbia know there are hundreds who should, I'll take my hat off to Dačić and Vučić. Low expectations? Not at all. Serbia is not stagnating, it is sinking fast, not unlike the rest of Europe.

The election of Tomislav Nikolić on May 20th and all the developments stemming from it, including the Constitutional Court decision on the Vojvodina Statute and today's change at the helm of the insofar uncontrollable National Bank of Serbia, instill hope that the reversal of the sinking trajectory is possible. I'm willing to criticize the new leadership for their failures, but every Serb is obligated to give them time to fail or succeed.

I know one thing: I'll take President Nikolić and the cabinet led by Dačić and Vučić over Tadić as the dictator usurping all the power any day and it's not even a choice of a lesser evil. The failure of democracy on May 6th was somewhat vindicated on May 20th and although the Nikolić victory cannot erase the injustice of the electoral fraud, it did default at less than a maximalist democratic ambition would desire and under the circumstances unfavorable to any kind of a democratic outcome. In other words, it was as much of a victory for democracy as pre-May 20 Serbia could yield.