Task Forces


Redefining Anti-Fascism

By Vlatko Sekulovic

Redefining Antifascism

We can witness, in the entire Europe, a process of strengthening of those political forces that base their ideology, in the essence, on the feeling of ethnic superiority. The area of former Yugoslavia is no exception, although nationalism, as one of such ideologies, has achieved, in the early nineties of the last century, cultural domination if not a hegemony, instead of the delegitimized socialism, in the former Yugoslav republics, maybe with some exception. In the historical moment, when other eastern European countries have taken the path of liberal democracies, the larger part of the Yugoslav federation ended up in wars because of increased interethnic tensions. It is interesting that nationalism, in the largest two of the republics of the former federation, Serbia and Croatia, shows remarkable resilience, perpetual reaffirmation and even new forms of manifestation. It is enough to mention the often cases of ustasha salutes being shouted on  the stadiums of some Croatian towns, or the recent case of a gathering of extreme right-wingers with their arms raised in fascist salute in the heart of Belgrade, praising Milan Nedić, president of Government in the occupied Serbia during World War II.

The attractive power of ideologies based on the feeling of ethnic superiority depends on many factors, among other, also from historic memory, and in particular from the interpretation of the events from World War II. Reinterpretation, revision, of historical facts in function of praising its own nation, on the basis of ethnic superiority, can be seen also on the example of the public in Serbia, first among experts, and then on a larger scale. This can be seen, among other, also through two thesis of the revisionists that at first glance look benign, but in the essence are deeply related to the fostering of the feeling of ethnic superiority. The first one is that the defeat of the Axis forces is primarily due to the efforts of the Soviet Union, i.e. Russians, and the other is that Serbs had two antifascist resistance movements.

Without the intention to diminish the sacrifice that the nations of the Soviet Union have sustained in the defence from the Nazi’s and their allies, the exclusivity of the first thesis has a goal to diminish the contribution of other Countries and nations in the II World War.  The objective is to obscure primarily the relevance of one historical fact. That  Great Britain, a liberal democracy, de facto, as of 1st of September 1939 until 22nd of June 1941, alone waged a war against Germany, Italy and Japan on three fronts: European, African and Asian. Soviet Union and the USA during all this period stud aside, in terms of engaging in direct armed conflicts, except for the entrance of soviet troops in Poland, on the September 17th 1939, on the basis of Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement. During that period Yugoslavia was no exception. In the Yugoslav society existed forces that gravitated to Nazis, because of their anti-bolshevism, it is not to be neglected that the Kingdom of Yugoslavia never recognized the Soviet Union because of the debt, political and financial, of the Karadjordjevic family to the Romanov. On the other hand, existed some form of duty and allegiance related to the allies from the Ist World War, France and Great Britain. Balancing between the two sides, the result of such politics was contradictory, thus on March 25th Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact, but as consequence after two days major demonstrations against this document erupted and a military coup was staged against the Government.

To emphasize the role of the soviets, is functional to the negation of the fact that an alliance between liberal democracies and the Soviet Union was necessary to defeat totalitarian and brutal regimes without precedents in human history. Obviously, it is not based on historical facts any negation of the contribution of the two sides in the victory over Nazism and Fascism. However, if the negation of the contribution of the communist in such a victory is a result of a Cold War based interpretation of historical facts, than the wave of revalorization of the contribution of the Soviet Union, has in its heart, not the objective to revalorize socialism, but to negate the values of liberal democracies, i.e. the West, in the optics of the new conflict between Russia and the West. This can be perceived in Serbia when the role of the Soviet Union is praised in the II World War, it is exclusively being attributed to Russia, i.e. the Russian people, which doesn’t correspond to historical facts. For example, in the operations for the liberation of Belgrade, in the second half of 1944, a large part of the Red Army fighters were Ukrainians, although no merit is being recognized to Ukraine, because it is functional to the opinion that Ukraine and Ukrainians do not share the values of antifascism, and that this values belong exclusively to Russia, i.e. the Russians. This thesis is being placed in the context of the alleged loyalty to Russia, because Russia has not recognized Kosovo. However, if we take into consideration that Ukraine neither has recognized the independence of Kosovo, than it is clear that the bottom line is not loyalty to Russia, but loyalty to Russian nationalism. In other words, loyalty to the feeling of Russian ethnic superiority, even though such a feeling is the biggest threat for peace and stability in Russia itself, being a multiethnic society. Therefore is logical a consequential nationalist thesis that the nations (peoples, ethnic groups) are by their “nature” divided into Nazis / Fascists and anti-Fascists / anti-Nazis. The members of one nation, by mere fact that do belong to such an ethnic group, cannot be Fascists or Nazis, and on the other hand  members of an other ethnic group are by birth Fascist or Nazis. In this manner, nationalists affirm further the thesis that certain nations, ethnic groups, are superior to other, which was the basic idea of both Nazism and Fascism. Such a selective interpretation of historical facts, through the lenses of a World based on the feeling of ethnic superiority, as reaction strengthens such a feeling also within “non superior” ethnic groups, usually as a chain reaction. If simultaneously, to the elegies to the “natural” antifascism in one ethnic group, e.g. Russians or Serbs, is negated the antifascism of the other groups, e.g. Ukrainians or Croats, than this becomes a direct support to those ideological forces in these groups, e.g. Ukrainians or Croats, which do base their ideology on the feeling of ethnic superiority. The truth is that Nazism and Fascism as ideologies are transcendental to nations. For example, the military units under the command of Nedic, puppet of the Nazis in Serbia similar to Peten in France, composed only of Serbs, were side by side with the 1st Cossack division, composed mainly of Russians, during the battle for Belgrade, in 1944, fighting against the troupes of the Yugoslav Liberation Army (partisans), where the Serbs were a relative majority, and of the Red Army, in which ranks a large number of fighters were Russians.

The emphasis on the role of the Soviet Union, i.e. Russians, in the World War II, and in particular on the area of what was Yugoslavia, has another objective to be achieved in the Serbian public opinion. To disqualify, or at least to minimize, the relevance of the four years struggle of the Yugoslav partisans. The effort in this case is oriented to annul the relevance of the only supranational, supraethnic, antifascist resistance movement exactly because of its supranational character. The fact is that the Yugoslav Peoples Liberation Army (partisans) had fighters from each of ethnic groups of former Yugoslavia and this is not in the interest of the nationalists in the XXI century that are trying to classify the nations in “naturally” fascist and antifascists. The proof of the supranational character of the partisan’s liberation resistance is, among other, the participation of large number of Jews in the ranks of the partisans units, which was not the case with other armed forces that have acted in the area of Serbia and Yugoslavia. It is understandable that the nationalists negate or diminish the importance of the partisan’s liberation resistance movement, but to this negation contributes one of the mistakes of the official socialist historiography, which was understandable, but not justifiable, and that is the communist monopolisation of the antifascist resistance of the partisan’s liberation movement, particularly after the war, with the basic thesis that all partisans were communists.

It is out of question that the role of the Communist Party was crucial in the organisation of the partisan’s liberation movement, but this movement not only has been supranational, but it was also transcendental vis-a-vis the political orientation of its members. The movement itself was above all a resistance movement against the occupiers, not a revolutionary movement. To this aspect of the character of the partisan’s liberation movement indicates the usage of the term “antifascist” when objectives, organisational structure and temporary authorities were defined and constituted within the movement. In this occasion only two aspects shall be emphasized in order to illustrate the political inclusiveness of the partisan movement, both in its leadership and broader ranks. Out of 11 members of the partisan’s movement supreme civilian executive body, Executive Committee of the Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia, AVNOJ, 5 were pre-war members of the Communist party, 3 of them members of the Democratic Party, and one from Christian socialist, Yugoslav Muslim organisation and one orthodox priest. Thus a fact is that the majority of the leaders of AVNOJ, as its president Ivan Ribar, were not pre-war communist. Even more so, Ribar himself was the President of the Assembly of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia before the war. In the broader ranks of the movement, during the entire war, were registered many cases of individual and collective defections from the ranks of the Yugoslav army in the Motherland (chetniks), Slovenian and Croatian domobrani to the partisan forces. This process culminated in 1944 after two waves of amnesty and the order of Petar II Karadjordjevic (alleged King of Yugoslavia in exile) to the chetnik forces to join the partisans and when the majority of its members of these forces followed that order. Thus, in Serbia, and Yugoslavia, in the early 1945, occurred a process of fusion of all antifascist forces, leftist or non-leftist, in one unified armed forces personified in the Yugoslav Liberation Army. Out of the process remained the Ustasha (Croatian nationalists and allies of the Nazi) and ljotićevci (Serbian nationalist forces), as well as those individuals who were accused of crimes of war, because not included in the amnesty.

However, the communist monopolisation of the partisan’s movement after World War II suppressed these facts and created additional ideological space to the anticommunist, Cold War driven, revisionism of the World War II based on the necessity to identify at any cost an alternative to the communist resistance movement. The revisionist than applied the model from France or Italy, and launched a thesis of allegedly two antifascist, resistance, movements in Serbia, one - the partisans, communist, and the second - the chetniks, non-communist. However, the problem with this thesis is that the majority of the chetniks have joined, after 1944, the ranks of the partisans, thus the only alternative left to the revisionist was to reinterpret the historical facts, through the rehabilitation of Draza Mihailovic, former war minister in the Government of Peter II and military leader of the chetniks, and to build up a construct of the chetniks as non communist resistance movement. Such effort had not as objective the rehabilitation of all of the members of chetnik units, because the majority of them was in no need to be rehabilitated, based on the events in the period 1944-1945, but to rehabilitate Draža Mihailović and the units that remained loyal to him, after that he refused the order of his supreme commander King Petar II to join the ranks of the Yugoslav Liberation Army, as of September 12th 1944. About the character of these rogue chetnik units is enough to say that they withdraw with the Nazi troupes from Yugoslavia facing the offensive of the partisans and the Allies. Obviously, hence Mihailovic was rehabilitated in 2015, based on the decision of the Belgrade Higher Court, it is not a surprise that there are ongoing processes to rehabilitate other Serbian nationalist from World War II, such as the already mentioned Nedić, which, in the interpretation of the revisionists, had a bad luck to share the faith of the Serbian nation under Nazi regime.

The thesis of the revisionist about the alleged two antifascist resistance movements of the Serbs, is fitting in the above indicated nationalist thesis about “natural born” antifascists, because Serbs had not one, but two movements against fascists, one communist, and the other non communist. Such thesis is then being amplified in the context of antagonism with the Croats, because they haven’t had such a non communist movement resistance movement, at the contrary their national movement, collaborated with the Nazis. In this manner the thesis of the “natural” classification of ethnic groups into fascists and antifascists is being emphasized.

In that respect, it is necessary, without negating the fundamental values on which is based the Allied interpretation of the historical facts and events from the World War II, to revalorize the civic element, i.e. non leftist and non communist, within the partisan’s liberation movement in Serbia and Yugoslavia, and the role of Great Britain and USA. This is of outmost relevance because the antifascism of the XXI century, defined as a movement that has in its heart the equality and same rights to human beings regardless of their ethnicity, has to have a civic movement character and must not be burdened with the exclusivity imposed by archaic ideological differences. These differences can only weaken a civic action directed against the feeling of ethnic superiority, which is today the greatest menace to peace and security in Europe and leads without exception to the strengthening of Fascism, Nazism and similar ideologies.