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.


Anonymous said...

Nedic i Ljotic ne mogu da se rehabilituju jer nikada nisu bili ni osudjeni. Nedic je ubijen/ izvrsio samoubistvo tokom istpitivanja pre sudjenja. A Ljotic je poginuo u Sloveniji na kraju rata. Ali ipak odlican tekst

Srbo said...

То јесте чињеница коју сам превидјео и искористио погрешну ријеч. Хвала на исправци.

The Hero of Crappy Town said...

A few points:

One. No, I don't think that a commemorative plaque going up in honor of a Muslim collaborator, should have the Serbs starting to look at their own collaborators in a different light. The Serbs should look at Serbian collaborators in whichever light fits the historical facts. It would be extremely irrational, and potentially disastrous for the Serbs themselves, to affect a favorable view of them, just to spite Muslim fans of this Aćif Efendi figure in a kind of tit-for-tat rehabilitation of collaborators. And that the quest for historical truth should not be held hostage to anybodies emotional sensibilities, well that should always be the case. There isn't a threshold of just how severe a shock one must have caused, before other people get the green light to try to determine the truth even if it offends that person.

Two. I didn't know there were two categories of domestic collaborators known as "the Croats and the Sandžak Muslims". Really a 'Croat' and a 'Sandžak Muslim' are a subset of 'collaborator'?

Three. Always this America-referencing stuff with the champions of JVuO. I keep hearing about this stuff where Time had Mihailovich on the cover, Hollywood made pro-Mihailovich movies, Truman decorated him, and his guerrillas rescued 500 American airmen. That's nice to know, but repeating this, and only this, ad nauseam, makes it sound as if there is no other proof for a position that a rethink on the character of JVuO is long due. Also it seems cringe worthy in that it seems to boil down to saying X must be true when (even) the Americans said it, as if they were some kind of heavenly appointed arbiters of truth. And what if the Americans had done just the opposite and smeared Mihailovich from day one, would that change the reality? Obviously not. What matters and what I'd like to know is stuff like how many men did JVuO have, how many arms and who did they get them from, how was it organized, and what battles it fought and against whom, but it seems unlikely I will ever be able to learn this from its present-day champions who are more inclined to share with me for the umtenth time how Truman secretly thought Mihailovich was a real nice chap, as if I ever cared about freaking Truman.

Srbo said...

Thanks for your comments. Let me try to respond.

One. I do not think Serbs should start looking at their own collaborators in a different light, I'm just saying they inevitably will. Acif was not commemorated as a result of a historical analysis where he was shown to be a positive historical character to his community. It was a purely political move, void of historical justification and in the Balkans, such moves have always caused similar counter-moves, also void of historical justification. Radicalization is usually an exchange of unreasonable political moves and a glorification of Nedic by the Serbs is a less remote possibility with every glorification of the likes of Acif Efendi and with every Croatian public "Hail Hitler" salute Western Europe lets slide. In the world where both good or bad have always been relative, if the Pope greets Thompson, who's only known for his music and his glorification of Croatian clerico-fascist past, what kind of message does that send to the Serbs who've been a victim of that clerico-fascism, and what kind of ideologically anti-fascist tradition can stop more and more people from glorifying the likes of Nedic, whose historical role is well-known to be that of a collaborator and not of a fascist?
Spiting has nothing to do with it. It's all about the points of orientation. Again, I'm not advocating any form of glorification of Nedic, even if his collaboration did save numerous Serbian lives, but I am predicting it.

Two. If the Americans were one of the Allied nations, then the Croats were one of the Axis/Fascist nations. Their only state was fascist, and, to my knowledge, they had no serious national anti-fascist movement to counter Pavelic. The only Sandzak Muslim fighting units were fascist collaborators. If you know of such Sandzak Muslim militia units which fought on the side of Allies before 1944, let me know and I'll retract and apologize. Random individuals who might've sided with one or the other do not count as their existence does not reflect the general attitudes of the group. I would accept an objective historical analysis by which Acif Efendi's militia only existed to fight off the attacks of the Partisans and the Chetniks. Then he'd be a defender of his community and it wouldn't matter as much that he was a fascist.
Or should we say that it wasn't the Americans who fought Hitler, but the US Army?

Three. The America-referencing stuff, of course, is not the proof that Mihailovic was a Serb patriot, only that he was a respected ally of the major anti-fascist power at the time. Truman honored him as an ally and I assume that in order to be an ally of the Americans in the World War II, you had to be fighting their enemy. This post was not about rehabilitating Mihailovic, but about drawing a parallel between him and Acif Efendi along the fascist-anti-fascist lines. This was an analysis of Mihailovic and his troops. I strongly believe that both Mihailovic and Nedic should be analyzed not in the sense of their contribution to the fight between the Axis and the Allies, but in the sense of their contribution to the survival and advancement of the Serbian people related to that fight. In other words, I want to see how the generations of Serbs benefited from Draza fighting and from Nedic collaborating.

One additional point: tell me exactly the ways in which the Serbian nation benefited from the "favorable view of them" and in what way did the consequently unfavorable view affected for example, the Croats. In other words, how did the anti-fascist world reward the Serbs for being anti-fascist and how did it, in turn, punish the Croats for being fascist?

If the Communists allowed for an objective historical analysis, tit-for-tat wouldn't even be an operative phrase and we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Djordje said...

Srbo, as usual, you give us much to ponder. On the question of Nedic's collaboration. This must be defined in the strictest of terms. For instance, Pavelic saw the strategic need for a collaboration with the Nazis to parry Italian intentions in the Balkans. Of course, German occupation of Serbia was a plus, as well. Nedic was certainly an unenthusiastic choice to head the government. He was between the proverbial rock and the hard place. In this light, should not Prince Paul be scrutinized more for his decisions in trying to keep Yugo neutral? Granted, his options were limited as well.

Srbo said...

It was a part of the mess that Alexander made in 1918. A thorough, uninhibited historical analysis is necessary to sort this through. Both Paul and Nedic were in an unenviable position, as you correctly stated. The key question on Nedic is whether the Serbian historians are going to judge him against the anti-fascist tendencies of the ravaged Serbian people, i.e. the geopolitical worldview and the Serbian role in it, or against the necessity to pick a lesser evil, i.e. the utilitarian worldview in which the only important thing is how many Serbs survive the extermination attempt. The two worldviews will affect the analysis in opposite ways, but to have an honest discussion that leads to an honest conclusion, the Serbs have to look at all these historical figures under the light of needs and wants of the Serbian people, and in Acif's case, the Sandzak Muslim people.
Neither Draza's role nor Nedic's role was black and white. Show me a leader and I'll show you a sinner, but sins have their own specific weights that need to be measured objectively. What I know is that between Acif Efendi, Draza and Nedic, Tito committed the most heinous crimes against the Serbian people, and his inquisitors told us all we know about all three men, leaving us unreconciled and misinformed. I refuse to play like that.

Carl Savich said...

The Legion of Merit is one of the highest awards that the U.S. Government can award. Draza Mihailovich was recommended by Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Dwight D. Eisenhower. U.S. President Harry S. Truman issued the award to Mihailovich based on Eisenhower's recommendation, which in turn was based on recommendations by American military commanders and officers who had eyewitness knowledge and evidence of Mihailovich's role. It is a question of credibility here. Are going to believe what a Communist hack or propagandist said about Draza Mihailovich or are you going to believe Ike and Give 'Em Hell Harry? That is what it boils down to. The movies, comic books, radio plays, magazine covers, magazine stories, novels, were all evidence of his role as a key ally. The Legion of Merit award, however, is an ex post facto assessment of Mihailovich's role, based on the evidence. There are many accounts of the battles and engagements of the Chetnik guerrillas. Here is an account of the first engagement of the 7th SS Mountain Division Prinz Eugen against the Chetniks:

Carl Savich said...

The Legion of Merit awarded to General Draza Mihailovich by U.S. President Harry S. Truman contained the following dedication:

Chief Commander

General Dragoljub Mihailovich distinguished himself in an outstanding manner as Commander-in-Chief of the Yugoslavian Army Forces and later as Minister of War by organizing and leading important resistance forces against the enemy which occupied Yugoslavia, from December 1941 to December 1944. Through the undaunted efforts of his troops, many United States airmen were rescued and returned safely to friendly control. General Mihailovich and his forces, although lacking adequate supplies, and fighting under extreme hardships, contributed materially to the allied cause, and were instrumental in obtaining a final Allied Victory.

March 29, 1948


This is the official judgment and conclusion of the U.S. Government on Draza Mihailovich's role during World War II. Draza Mihailovich and the Chetniks "contributed materially to the allied cause, and were instrumental in obtaining a final Allied Victory." What can the Communist hacks throw up against this? Not much. A bunch of laughable photos purporting to show Chetniks with German troops and officers. Many of these were forgeries and fakes. There is even a laughable one where the Communist Government of Josip Broz Tito used a photo of Mihailovich with Chetniks, Bosnian Muslim supporters, and an American officer which the Communists labeled as Mihailovich with "Ustashas". A lot of the Communist propaganda "evidence" was these faked and forged photos. The Communists also accused Mihailovich's forces of killing downed American pilots. These were allegations made in a court of law. What happened was that the pilots were, of course, later discovered to be alive. The problem here is not that there is not enough evidence or material on the role of the Chetniks during World War II, but cutting through all the Communist disinformation and propaganda. The Communists had many Croatian and Serbian enablers and allies in this disinformation campaign, such as Jozo Tomasevich and Louis Adamic. If you think the media disinformation campaign during the 1990s was egregious, the Communist propaganda is just as bad, if not worse.