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.
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.
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