BOOK REVIEW: "FATHERLAND" by Nina Bunjevac - Review by Momchilo Dobrich / "Pogledi" June 30, 2015
Pogledi Book review by Momchilo Dobrich June 30, 2015
By Nina Bunjevac
By Robert Harris
”Fatherland”, by Nina Bunjevac.
Publisher: Jonathan Cape London.
Book review by Momchilo DOBRICH
Fatherland is the story of Petar Bunjevac and his family, principally concerning the effect his life and ambitions had on his daughter Nina, the author of the book. Nina is especially talented in cartooning and telling her story in a graphic novel style. Not only does she draw well, her art is accompanied with short and to the point paragraphs, which allows her story to flow.
Her father was born in the village of Upper Bogicevci, Slavonija. Petar was five years old when the Nazis invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Soon after, Slavonija, the Bunjevac homeland, was destined to suffer horribly at the hands of the Croatian Nazi puppet regime. Tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children were murdered during the sadistic rule of the Croatian Ustasha.
Although Nina cannot for certain say what happened to her family during the war, her father survived along with his mother, Stana, while she claims Petar’s father Djuro died in the ovens of Jasenovac Concentration Camp.
After the war Petar was jailed in Tito’s Yugoslavia following his military service. He witnessed the hypocrisy of the Communist system which forced him to leave his homeland by escaping Tito’s socialist utopia to Austria, after which he finally immigrated to Canada, settling in the Niagara Region of Southern Ontario. Here he worked and started a family, blessed with one son and two daughters, of which Nina is the youngest.
While in Canada, Petar decided to focus his dislike of the Communist regime in Yugoslavia by joining a Serbian nationalist group. Dedicated to destroying the illegal and criminal Belgrade dictatorship, Petar took on a second life akin to being a spy. Nina’s mother at some point decided that this life was not for her and returned to Yugoslavia with her two daughters, while leaving her son Petar behind with his father.
From here I do not wish to judge Nina’s perspectives on her upbringing and family life, which takes up much of the book. Much of it is negative and bleak, and she has the right to portray her family in any way she wishes. However, Nina has included in her work an extremely brief and judgemental history of the Balkans, including an even shorter history of both the royal and communist Yugoslav states. This is where, from a historical perspective, the book goes wrong. Much of the history presented is not only flawed, it has been written quite callously. When proven historical facts are so misrepresented by the author, anything may be possible, and thus we can question her personal historical narrative.
At this point it is difficult to continue as the work is full of historical conjecture. From this point I will focus on the single most glaring falsehood within her book. Nina claims at several points that Army-general Dragoljub-Draza Mihailovich was a Nazi collaborator and traitor!
Nina has drawn remarkable depictions of General Dragoljub “Draza” Mihailovich on various pages of the book, yet beside these pictures are accompanying paragraphs full of disinformation. She says Mihailovich and his Royal Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, also known as Chetniks, unenthusiastically joined with the Partisans to fight the Germans, but then turned to the Germans fearing a Communist takeover. She is either unaware of the truth or knowingly manipulated facts to support her account.
Mihailovich, as a colonel in the Yugoslav Army, refused to surrender after the capitulation of his country, and arrived on Ravna Gora in central Serbia on May 11, 1941 and began preparing the nation for guerrilla war. By contrast, Tito and his Partisans were nowhere to be found at this point due to the pact between Stalin and Hitler, which made Nazis and Communists mutual oppressors in many parts of Europe. When Hitler turned on his fellow tyrant Stalin on June 22 1941, only then did Tito leave Belgrade and his gracious Nazi hosts. This took place a full 42 days since “Cica” Draza as he became affectionately known by his countrymen, arrived at Ravna Gora and 64 days since the end of the April War.
It also must be said that by the time the Communistс took to the field, many Serb communities had already formed Chetnik detachments to fight for their very lives against the murderous Croatian Ustashi. Mihailovich had already sent officers, men and what little material he had into Bosnia to repel the bloodthirsty Ustasha, while Communist party members stayed low. More often than not the Communists even assisted the Ustasha by assassinating prominent Serb leaders, so as to prevent any non-communist resistance groups from taking root.
Following this she claims Mihailovich “took a narrow minded view of war at large”. Not only is this statement ignorant it also seems to be intentionally deceptive. This quote could effortlessly be discredited in many ways, however I only need to quote a British SOE officer who was assigned to Mihailovich’s headquarters on Ravna Gora who personally witnessed many Chetnik anti-Axis operations, Brigadier Charles D. Armstrong.
Regarding Mihailovich’s view of the war Armstrong wrote, “Ours, a short time policy with requests for action to help in the defeat of the Germans as quickly as possible. The General on the other hand knew the Allies would win the war and taking a long term view of the problems was concerned as the best way he could conserve his forces in order to be able to win the peace”. Brigadier Armstrong then explains the motivation for Mihailovich’s strategy, “The Germans, demoniac psychologists that they are, were inflicting fearful retribution on the population”. In short his policy was to save innocent Serbian lives by not entering in needless attacks on the German occupiers for little or no military or strategic gain.
All that being said, General Mihailovich did launch yearly offensive operations against the Axis. The best know action took place on October 5, 1943 when the railway bridge at Visegrad was blown. Over 2500 Chetniks assaulted the bridge, which was defended by a mixed battalion of Germans and Croatian Home-guards. This offensive was witnessed by an Allied mission including British SOE and American OSS operatives. The list of anti-Axis operations is long, however not the aim of this book report.
From here there is little point in refuting Nina’s other claims against the Chetnik movement. I have made my argument showing the total disregard for historical accuracy by Nina Bunjevac. Sadly, without further background reading the casual reader in Canada and other nations would likely be unaware of these facts. Though no fault of their own, it should be the responsibility of the author to provide accurate information for her readers. At a minimum, the author could have been impartial in portraying this conflict, but somehow I think that wouldn’t support her narrative.
In conclusion, with previous awareness of the facts of what really transpired in WWII Yugoslavia, I cannot recommend this book. I can only hope that one day Nina will use her talent for a good, accurate and truly open-minded understanding of the past which influences our present, and her father’s past. I also pray that the perpetuation of Tito’s flawed legacy and tiresome Communist propaganda will cease.
On this day, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.