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Revised Remembrance on Fascism in Serbia and Croatia

Between Decretory Antifascism and Antifascism

Todor Kuljić, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade

After the collapse of the cold war, the culture of remembrance has radically changed, along with the attitude to­wards fascism. New reality that opens the door to future always wants a new past. Thus the interlocked present real­ity, the past and the future make a ma­jor trait of human temporality and his­torical consciousness. The past is not made up of events solely, but of devel­opments that make sense today. Is it the anti-fascist culture of remembrance that still prevails or some other? In what way political elites impose new patterns of remembrance?

As it seems, the anti-antifascist culture of remembrance has become hege­monic in the Balkans over the past 15-odd years. It manifests itself in various forms: “patriotic” intellectuals have placed Milan Nedic on the list of 100 greatest Serbs; Chetniks, proclaimed antifascists in textbooks, are after their veterans’ rights; October 20, 1944, is treated as occupation, rather than libera­tion; the symbols of antifascism are removed from street plates, etc. It is common knowledge that we have had for long a decretory, one-party cul­ture of remembrance of fascism, which had skillfully boiled down the period 1941-45 to a narration about seven of­fensives. A decretory historical picture has been all of sudden replaced by an even more conspicuous exclusivity: denial of antifascism that implies re­nouncement of whatever had been ra­tional, historically necessary, progress­ive, European and enlightening as to­talitarian. Cynically, ex-communists - today’s new anti-antifascists - are those who orchestrate this changed culture of remembrance. Ex-communists are those who advocate introduction of a Ravna Gora medal of honor and lay a wreath to defeated quislings in Bleigh­burg.

Any nationalism – and we have been living in the atmosphere of normalized nationalism for over 15 years – treats antifascism as unwelcome and turns to showy fascism. However, since antifas­cism has been recognized as Europe’s patriotism, is has to be adjusted to suit national needs. Various nationalistic currents (Chetniks, Domobrans, etc.) are putting on antifascist masks and thus turn antifascism into a relative cat­egory. Can a nationalist be an antifas­cist at all? Hardly, if antifascism implies not only armed resistance to occupa­tion forces, but also the fight against all narrow-minded ideologies that deny equality of human beings.

The above-mentioned process gradu­ally matures in keeping with political re­shuffles, while the anti-antifascist nar­ration gets its shape. The process has been evolving in several stages. Firstly we had the longtime decretory anti-fas­cism that was the cornerstone of broth­erhood and unity, and a counterbal­ance to nationalism. Then Tito died. After that there was perestroika and the beginning of the latent struggle over the monopoly on the “victimized Serbi­an people” in 1980s – the latter was nothing but an excuse for rearranging the relations in the federation. When in mid-1980s the question was raised about Yugoslav nations’ share in the People’s Liberation War, antifascism began turning into nationalism. Disin­tegration of ex-Yugoslavia and the war ensued. However, in 1990s antifascism was still officially recognized in Serbia, while on the other hand the opposition gradually developed anti-antifascism. Ravna Gora was turned into an altern­ative birthplace of the “authentic” Serbi­an anti-fascism, Belgrade and the Srem Front into new Serbian spots of communist crimes, quislings into vic­tims, while the Day of Uprising, July 7, 1941 into a day when a Serb had shot another Serb. After 2000, these trends were incorporated into the official sys­tem of remembrance. A republic was deprived of the Day of the Republic, monarchists were proclaimed antifas­cists on a par, the ex-Royal Family was restituted and pro-monarchy voices be­came ever louder.

Multiform Denials of Antifascism

The processes referred to in the para­graphs above were not uniform in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia. During Croa­tia’s Homeland War in 1990s, antifas­cism was unwelcome – Ustashi emig­rants were turning back, Croatia was leaning on the united Germany and her leadership was mobilizing the masses through nationalism. Antifascist round­elays were replaced by the song ”Danke Deutschland,” and in the Vuko­var conflict Croats used to boost their morale by singing “A Young Ustashi Dies in the Battlefield.” Ustashi were acknowledged as the most dedicated combatants against the Yugoslav People’s Army and the Serbian resist­ance. Anti-totalitarianism and cleansing of the Ustashi past from fascism dom­inated till Tudjman’s death. The former official communist historian, D. Bilandz­ic, labeled communists and Ustashi to­talitarian forces, while Domobrans and supporters of the Croatian Rural Party (HSS) democrats. The geography of remembrance has ignored Jasenovac for long, because Bleighburg had been enthroned as the altar of Croatia’s sac­rifice. In 2004, first signs of tactical shifting towards different interpretation of antifascism became visible. Under the pressure of the need to move to­wards Europe at a quicker pace, Croa­tia adopted a new slogan – “Yes to an­tifascism, no to communism.” Actually, the slogan was launched by Premier Ivo Sanader in Jasenovac in March 2004. President Stipe Mesic was even more explicit in emphasizing antifas­cism as the pillar of Croatia’s state­hood. So, antifascism was nationalized and cleansed from the Left.

Serbia’s ideological-political course was quite the opposite. During the Mi­losevic era, antifascism was officially maintained, though also somewhat na­tionalized. It was the opposition that advocated anti-antifascism at that time – in the attempt to negate a major as­pect of the Socialist Party of Serbia’s legitimacy, it was going for partisans’ monopoly on the WWII resistance. Ever since 2001, official anti-antifas­cism has been notable on the offensive in Serbia. Discussions of Chetniks’ an­tifascism culminated in history text­books publicized in 2003. Milan Nedic is being rehabilitated with much devo­tion, while Dragoljub Ljotic cleansed of fascism. In today’s Slovenia we have a similar thesis about a “functional” (rather than “actual”) Domobrans’ col­laboration with occupational forces. Al­legedly, as communist danger men­aced the country, Domobrans were forced to patriotically cooperate with the occupier. Thus not only collabora­tionism, but also moral responsibility has become a relative category. In Ser­bia and in Croatia, the communist danger is similarly used to justify anti-antifascism. Though widespread, these theses have been incorporated into Serbia’s, Croatia’s and Slovenia’s sys­tems to different extents, the same as their operability differs when it comes to equalizing the rights of antifascist and anticommunist veterans.

The Serbian opposition’s anti-antifas­cism had matured long before Milo­sevic’s ouster, after which it was offi­cially enthroned. While ever since 2001 the Croatian system of remembrance has been slowly but surely cleansed of Tudjman’s chauvinism (In Jasenovac in March 2004, I. Sanader and V. Seks aligned themselves with Europe’s anti­fascism and protection of minorities), official clericalization and definite U-turn to anti-antifascism were launched in Serbia. Though the two nationalistic processes (in Serbia and in Croatia) have been substantively related, their courses have not been parallel. While the Balkans is obviously moving to­wards either particularistic or national antifascism, anti-antifascism is on the increase in Serbia. This is not only about an overemphasized delayed ac­tion against Milosevic Socialists’ rule, but also about a deeply-rooted resist­ance to antifascists’ radical criticism of nationalism. Thus, Chetniks’ antifas­cism was officially rehabilitated, and, within the hegemonic discourse about communist crimes, quislings are inter­preted as victims.

Universal Antifascism as Useless Past

It is hard to believe this region would cease disputing symbols of fascism, nationalism and socialism in near fu­ture. A crisis society and its need have always determined the culture of re­membrance, given that the past is a universal, referential frame that provides sense and continuity. There are two sides to universal antifascism – the outer, fighting side and the inner that is antinationalistic and implies the fight against all forms of nationalism. The values it promotes differs from those of national antifascism. A new im­age of national antifascism – present­ing Chetniks as the fighting core, sup­posed to break the alleged delusion that antifascism has always been antina­tionalistic over here – was en­throned in Serbia’s history textbook in 2003. Supranational contents have been removed from the newly con­strued national-liberation antifascist movement born in 1804. The events in Orasac in 1804 and in Bela Crkva in 1941 are no longer placed on the same vertical. The system of liberation re­membrance was narrowed and cleansed – it was nationalized.
The past, as a rule, weights the present time, which offers resistance by instru­mentalizing the past. Cultures differ by the manner they come to grips with the past. In the attempt to create a reason­ing system against the backdrop of reality, we use our remembrance as a symbolic framework that organizes our behavior and self-perception. In this context, the past is the framework that actively imbues the reality with sense. It is only logical that critical awareness of the past stands less chance in the areas that imbued with wars, ethnic conflicts and belligerent ethnic mental­ity.

No wonder that the real Yugoslav anti-Fascism was successfully fragmented into more or less constructed, Croat, Slovenian and Serb versions and that brotherhood and unity ( the French Re­volution idea) became a symbol of treason. In that spirit Constitution of the Republic of Croatia in its article 141 ex­pressly bans „restoration of Yugoslav state togetherness, that is, Balkans alli­ances in any shape or form\" and treats the foregoing as a punishable offence. (15). It is easy to grasp that such Croat-style anti-Fascism is in fact tan­tamount to an anti-Yugoslav „argu­ment“. On the other hand the Serb-style anti-Fascsim seems to be tan­tamount to an anti-Communist „argu­ment.“

Nationalism enriches and shapes the past, rather than probes it. Nationalism reluctantly refers to fascism, as it is aware that they are related. So, the past’s meaning depends on the histor­ical consciousness, rooted in the present and open to a new future. It was the new vision of the Serbian na­tional state that called for official recog­nition of the Chetnik movement as anti­fascist, the same as, urged by the same need, Slovenia and Croatia, some ten years ago, sought after na­tional, Domobrans’ antifascism and called for new monuments to replace supranational partisan symbols. Incum­bent authorities, as a rule, filter the past that is useful from the angle of hege­monic ideologies. The one who mono­polizes interpretation of the past con­trols the present and imposed the im­age of the future.

German version in: ZAG 54, p.25ff., Berlin 2009

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