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.