Friday, May 11, 2012

James Bissett, former Ambassador to Yugoslavia, responds to Prof. Srdja Pavlovic's attack on General Mihailovich and the Serbs

James Bissett
Former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia

Re: "Rewriting the past a bad idea; Don't use Nazi-era figures for modern agendas," by Srdja Pavlovic, Ideas, May 9.

If Srdja Pavlovic thinks rewriting the past is a bad idea he shouldn't do it. His condemnation of Serbian guerrilla leader Dragoslav [Dragoljub] Mihailovic as a convicted war criminal and Nazi sympathizer is a blatant rewrite of history and contrary to the facts.

Mihailovic was one of the first resistance leaders in Europe to fight the Nazi occupiers.

He did this when Muslims in Bosnia were enlisting by the thousands into the 13th Waffen SS Division Handschar and the Croatian puppet leader, Anton Pavlic, and his fascist Ustashi were slaughtering the Jewish, Roman and Serbian populations of Croatia.

During the early months after the Nazi invasion, only Mihailovic's Serbs were fighting the occupiers. His communist enemies and the ones who brought him before a typical communist show trial after the war and executed him did not begin to fight the Germans until ordered to by their boss, Josef Stalin.

On May 25, 1942, Time magazine featured Mihailovic on its cover, describing how the Germans placed a price of $1 million on his head and how his resistance fighters were holding down seven German divisions who otherwise could have been on the Russian front.

Some war criminal! Some Nazi sympathizer!

Perhaps the professor should do more research and less rewriting.

James Bissett
Former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia, Ottawa


Aleksandra's Note: Here is the original Opinion/Editorial piece by Professor Srdja Pavlovic that was published in the Edmonton Journal on May 9, 2012:

Op Ed: Rewriting the past a bad idea

Don't use Nazi-era figures for modern agendas

Last month, citizens of Sarajevo marked the 20th anniversary of the barbarous siege their city endured in the early 1990s from the army of the Bosnian Serbs. At the same time, in Serbian's capital Belgrade, a court deliberated on a motion to rehabilitate the Second World War leader of the nationalist Chetnik movement - convicted war criminal and Nazi collaborator Dragoslav Mihailovic.

The era of "sniper alley" in Sarajevo and calls in Serbia for "historical justice" for Mihailovic are two stories connected by the thread of nationalism, and are also reminders of that ideology's potential longevity and brutality.

In truth, the entire former Yugoslavia has been the place where past and present has often merged into an explosive mix of emotions and mythologies, and all nationalist ideologies in the region have taken advantage of this. The attempt in Serbia to rehabilitate a convicted war criminal is just the most recent one. Many are worried that if successful, it might be followed by similar court proceedings in other former Yugoslav republics.

Bosnian Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo for 1,425 days, from April 5, 1992 to the end of February 1995. The city was hit by an average of 329 mortars per day, with a record of 3,777 mortars landing on July 22, 1993. Some 69.5 per cent of all civilians who died were Bosnian Muslims, 20 per cent were Serbs and 7.8 per cent were Croats. The first victim of sniper fire by the Serb forces was Suada Dilberovic. She was killed while peacefully protesting violence and war with a group of her fellow citizens.

Greater Serbian nationalism inspired the growth and actions of the Bosnian Serb army during the Yugoslav dissolution. The siege of Sarajevo was the central episode in a war for territory and ideology that called for the elimination of the unwanted other who prayed to a different god. Tools for completing the imaginary landscape of Greater Serbia included shelling cities, killing and starving civilians, summary executions, torture, ethnic cleansing, death camps and using rape as a weapon of war and genocide - tools not much different from those used in the Second World War.

By and large, it was this nationalism that motivated the killing in Bosnia in the 1990s and presented it as an act of defence to preserve an endangered Serb nation. Bosnian Serb general and accused war criminal Ratko Mladic is still a hero to many Serbs and his deeds are celebrated as major national accomplishments. The court proceedings against him are seen as the result of an international conspiracy to symbolically put the entire Serb nation on trial in The Hague.

Even though separated by 46 years of peace and stability in the former Yugoslavia, the events in Sarajevo are linked by nationalist ideology to the actions of Mihailovic's Chetniks in the Second World War.

Mihailovic adhered to and fought for achieving nationalist aims of expanding Serbia's territory. According to the Instruction to Chetnik Units in Montenegro, signed by Mihailovic on Dec. 20, 1941, the aims were the "creating of ethically pure Greater Serbia" that would include Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Vojvodina as well as the cleansing of the Croat, Albanian, and Muslim populations from those areas.

This document was based on the manifesto "Homogeneous Serbia" written on June 30, 1941 by one of the Chetnik movement ideologues, Stevan Moljevic. To that end Chetnik forces under Mihailovic's command collaborated with the German and Italian armies occupying Yugoslavia. In July 1946, Mihailovic was convicted by the Yugoslav Supreme Court of treason, collaborating with the occupying force, ordering the killing of non-Serb civilians and terrorism.

Among those calling for his rehabilitation is historian Miodrag Jankovic, who argued that in 1946 not only Mihailovic but "the Serbian nation that still today gives birth to saints" was on trial. Vuk Draskovic, a prominent nationalist, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement as well as a former foreign minister of that country, said that Mihailovic was not a collaborator but the "first anti-Fascist guerrilla fighter in Europe."

Such views reflect the growing trend of historical revisionism in the entire former Yugoslavia. The effort to rehabilitate war criminals has a contemporary component. While the focus appears to be on the war years in the 1940s, the scope is much broader and includes the most recent wars of the Yugoslav succession. By attempting to rehabilitate Mihailovic, revisionists are also defending the actions taken by Bosnian Serb political and military leaders in the 1990s.

To conclude, it bears repeating that these events should be placed in a broader context. Many post-communist Eastern European societies have been animated in part by efforts to turn Second World War collaborators into national heroes because they exploited the conflict to further nationalist agendas. We are witnessing a dangerous push toward historical revisionism that aims at rehabilitating ideology militarily defeated in 1945. I believe that such attempts to rewrite history of the anti-fascist struggle in the Balkans in particular, and Europe in general, should not be observed silently either by scholars of history or governments.

Srdja Pavlovic teaches modern Balkan and European history at the University of Alberta.


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