Denial and the rhetorics of Serbian victimization.

One of the most effective ways for Serbian nationalist propaganda to get into the minds of normal people has been, over the last three decades, the invocation of Jasenovac and of Serbian victimhood. The rhetorics of victimization was presented in a way that actually represents an abuse of memory of the Serbian victims of past oppression. Victimization was used in order to install a climate of fear, to present the Serbs as a nation under continuous threat and thus to whitewash as self-defence the wars of aggression conducted by the Serbs in the 1990s. For Serbian nationalists, thus, Serbian victims became no more than an asset, a useful tool of propaganda.

Even nowadays, this mentality dominated by the idea of victimization is what prevents many decent Serbs with no sympathy for nationalism to fully aknowledge the degree of harm caused by the Greater Serbia nationalists.

On my post on Holocaust Memorial Day, a reader, signing as Svetlana, wrote a comment about a bitter exchange of arguments between Owen and I and a Greek reader, Nikos previously published in the same thread. Her comment to a certain extent is illustrative of how the rethorics of victimization distorts the ability or the will to assess Serbia’s responsibilities for the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.

here is an excerpt: (…) somehow I feel that there will never be any understanding for serbian victims. The comments for this article should talk about all the victims of all nationalities and to be equally treated by everyone and not just always to point to Serbs as the main war criminals. Mladic should be arrested, no doubt about it, but now I somehow suspect that it is not Serbia that does not want to arrest Mladic, in my opinion some bigger factors are involved, because for some people it would be better to leave Serbia in dark, isolated, marginalized… so they could do their business as usual there.(…)

I am not at all questioning Svetlana’s good faith, I am just quoting her, in order to introduce the comment written as a reply to her by Owen, which focuses on victimization and on the patterns of argumentation used by those who believe that should not face the extremely negative legacy of Greater Serb nationalism.

I have been reading Owen’s comments in other blogs for years and I am very happy to receive his support and have him regularly following my blog and writing comments here. I am publishing Owen’s comment in full. In case some parts seem to lack context, please consult the post where the comment was originaly published :

Svetlana, I must take my share of criticism for the way in which the discussion moved on from discussing Sarah’s initial post honouring Aristides da Souza Mendes by way of commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

The problem was that I saw in the way Nikos expanded his original comments yet another effort to take discussion of criminal atrocities into the area of subtle propaganda for the EU to allow Serbia to move on and in.

As Sarah has said, our experience of exchanges with Serbians – hers considerably greater than mine – has been sufficient for us to have a reasonable idea now here an apparently open-ended discussion is heading. I observed to Nikos that the regrettable outcome of so many discussions with so many Serbians is that I have become much more focussed – closed-minded, with entrenched views, whatever – because I have wasted so much time beating around the bush as a result of taking the initial remarks at face value. Sad, but some of us have to use our time and energy carefully.

That’s not to write off all Serbians, far from it. I know that Sarah like myself has Serbian friends and acquaintances whom we not only like but intensely admire. But when engaging in discussion with Serbs and Serbians on the internet – on blogs, at places like Wikipedia, etc. – I so often find myself aware of a pattern emerging that reveals a single overriding concern on the part of my interlocutor, the aim to persuade me that Serbia is being victimised and discriminated against and I and the world should treat Serbia with more consideration and tolerance.

Of course I know about Jasenovac and the atrocities there. It is true that what happened at Jasenovac is not widely enough known and acknowledged outside Former Yugoslavia as a horror that stands alongside Srebrenica and the other atrocities in the wars of 1991-1995. But there are reasons why even those who are aware of Jasenovac are distracted from showing adequate respect for the memory of the victims.

Most of us communicating on the internet were born after the Second World War. We tend to speak of what we know. I know that Srebrenica was the single worst atrocity on the continent where I live since WWII. Events in Former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s were profoundly shocking to myself and others who had grown up with the idea that even if the commitment to “Never Again” was unlikely to eradicate war and conflict the one thing we should not expect to see in our lifetimes was the spectre of ethnic extermination. Srebrenica was only the culmination of horrible events that unfolded before us in places like Eastern Slavonia, Prijedor, Central Bosnia and the Drina Valley (not ignoring atrocities perpetrated on a smaller scale but no less importantly in places like Gospic and during the exodus from the Krajina).

For a long time when trying to discuss these atrocities and the reality of what had happened the inevitable response from Serbians, with the exception of an honourable and honoured minority, was that no massacre had taken place, that the scale of atrocities was vastly exaggerated, that Muslim and Croat atrocities were on a much greater scale than those blamed on Serbs, etc.

Over time as more facts have been confirmed the arguments deployed have gradually changed. There is still denial, but absolute denial is much less in evidence and attempts to downgrade the scale of what happened are much less blatant. In the case of Srebrenica that’s perhaps thanks to the evidence of the Scorpions video, though Natasa Kandic remains a target of hatred for forcing it onto the public’s consciousness. And also perhaps an appreciation of the overwhelming public acceptance outside the Balkans of the facts relating to the wars of the Former Yugoslavia wars as established in legal proceedings which however imperfect have succeeded in bringing to light an extraordinary volume of evidence that is now seen as beyond question.

So the argument has shifted but its central focus remains the same, the unfair treatment of Serbs and Serbia. Many Serbians now acknowledge that Srebrenica was a terrible atrocity (albeit little is said about events elsewhere – Omarska doesn’t seem to register much and Ovcara seems to remain difficult to accept). But that’s about as far as it goes. After a brief acknowledgment of Srebrenica the discussion moves rapidly on to Serbia’s problems and suffering. There’s no real outrage, no condemnation of the fact that the principal perpetrators have succeeded in avoiding justice for so long. I never hear concern expressed for the families of the victims. Above all I hear about the suffering of Serbians denied the right to be part of a prosperous, contented Europe (and occasionally complaints about the situation of Serb refugees in Serbia – a legitimate concern but usually expressed in a context of assigning uncritical blame). Serbians appear to be outraged by the notion of conditionality. The country that has protected and paid pensions to the indicted war criminals considers it has moved on.

The agenda is always to make the outside world aware of its mistreatment of Serbs and Serbia. And that is the problem. So much obvious intelligence and wide-ranging knowledge is relentlessly applied to the task of persuading the persion at the receiving end that Serbia must be allowed to cast off the burden of any outstanding responsibility for the recent past.

Jasenovac has become part of the scheme of justification, as an instrumental reference. And that’s why people who are aware of what happened there may appear to pay less attention to Jasenovac than the scale of what happened there demands.

The motives behind the work of the hopefully now defunct Jasenovac Research Institute were made clear by the activities of its officers elsewhere. That was perhaps one of the most transparently cynical attempts to exploit the reality of the suffering of the victims of Jasenovac and their survivors by using an association with other Holocaust victims to cloak apologist propagandising in a false respectability.

I often sense the presence of a similar, if less intense, cynicism in the references to Jasenovac that I’m offered as a sort of balance to comments about Srebrenica and other atrocities. To be frank though possibly unfair, it is difficult to detect the pain experienced by other victims in many of these references. Where there is a sense of genuine anger it often seems to spring from a resentment at being treated unfairly. But at least that anger is genuine. What I find most disturbing is when the references are almost incidental and appear intended simply to confirm a communality of victimhood rather than remind me of the terrible suffering of the individuals killed and otherwise abused by the Nazis and their Ustashe and Chetnik associates.

Svetlana, I don’t quarrel with your reference to Serbians as hospitable people. My problem is that Serbian hospitability seems to be conditional on the conduct of your guests. We’ll get along fine as long as I don’t disagree with you. I’m not going to be mealy-mouthed and pretend that I’m not criticising because that’s precisely what I have been doing up to this point.

As far as you personally are concerned I know almost nothing about you and your personal motives so the above is not directed at you. Nevertheless I think I’m still entitled to challenge your lack of insight in accusing Sarah of unfairness towards people who don’t share her attitudes. I very much hope that the profound respect for truth and justice she observes is, as you put it, what Europe is, and what democracy is.

You’re right, Europe should be proud of all its diversity and let people be different, their difference informed by that fundamental respect for one another.


Filed under Bosnia, Culture of denial, Duty of memory, Genocide, Nationalism, Serbia

26 responses to “Denial and the rhetorics of Serbian victimization.

  1. Owen

    I’ve just been reading a report of Djordjevic’s defence, seeking to blame the Suva Reka killings on ‘private revenge’ carried out by local police officers, their ‘guests’ from Nis or the state security people. Another change I’ve noticed that the explanation (and implicit mitigation) for the killings at Srebrenica that they were acts of revenge provoked by the deaths of Serbs in the surrounding area is less and less frequently advanced as Ivanisevic’s propaganda and manipulated figures are routinely discredited.

  2. Regarding Owen’s statement (perhaps out of context?) – “My problem is that Serbian hospitability seems to be conditional on the conduct of your guests. We’ll get along fine as long as I don’t disagree with you.”

    I would venture that all hospitality is conditional upon the conduct of guests.

    For over four years in Serbia I have come know that Serbs are genuinely hospitable towards and tolerant of foreigners, even to those who openly insult them.

    I am astonished at how well Serbs take the often deeply misinformed opining of foreign guests who think they know all about Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo or Yugoslavia when in fact they are talking rubbish.

    You would be hard pressed to find any foreign residents in Serbia who would agree with statement “Serbs are xenophobes” or “Serbs are inhospitable” or even “I do not like Serbs”.

    I should know, I have helped hundreds of foreigners settle here and I have yet to hear even one complain about the Serbian people or their treatment in Serbia. The overwhelming majority love the country and they love the people they find here.

    They are not blinded by propaganda or fooled by cunning Serbs putting on a show for foreigners. They are ordinary men and women who have take the time to meet and know ordinary Serbs, something that rapidly dissolves the prejudices about Serbs that so many arrive with, but very few take home.

  3. Sarah Franco

    Jonathan, the context of the text posted here is an exchange of comments with a reader that tried to ‘sell’ us the thesis ‘all-sides-are-guilty’, and to reverse the question of Serbia’s prospects of European integration, claiming that there should be no conditionality and exploiting the rhetoric of victimization.

    I understand what you mean, as although my experience is much more limited than yours, it converges to the same feeling.

    But the other reader, Svetlana, whom Owen addresses, seemed to feel that the Serbs are being unfairly punished, and gave the example of Serbian hospitality’s…

    Owen is very keen to fight denial and to support those people who feel it’s important to face the past, as I am also, so it is in that context that his text comes.

    We have been witnessing an evolution and increasing sophistication Serbian nationalists and of genocide deniers, and one of the arguments that always pops up is the fact that Serbs are hospitable people.

  4. svetlana

    The statement of Dora Bakoyannis, MFA of Greece, country member of EU, current president of OSCE, a liberal/neoliberal politician who is out of any suspicion regarding antiwest lobbies in general. To the opposite she’s famous for her ties with Bush family, Mayor of Athens during the Olympic games of 2004, probable president of New Democracy Party after the end of Karamanlis’ shift

    Serbia belongs to the European family

    My visit to Serbia on 2 February will be one of my first trips abroad since taking over the position of Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE, and I look forward to meeting with Serbia’s leaders to discuss how we can work together to strengthen regional stability and security in our common future.

    The strength of the OSCE lies in its ability to adapt to Europe’s changing needs and challenges. For over thirty years, the Organization has stood by the peoples of the region in their efforts to realize a vision of stability, democracy and progress for all. The OSCE was born in Helsinki in the mid 1970s, and Belgrade played a key role early on when the follow-up meetings of the Conference for Security and Co-operation were hosted at the Sava Centre.

    Greece is determined to act as an honest broker in addressing the divisions that have opened among some of the Organization’s 56 participating States in recent years. Openness, transparency, and the will to build consensus will guide our efforts. The 2009 Greek OSCE Chairmanship will focus on peacefully resolving conflicts, improving border security and policing standards, addressing the challenges of migration, strengthening the rule of law, respect for human rights, gender equality and combating human trafficking, to name just a few.

    It is clear to me that Serbia shares these priorities as it works hard in guaranteeing human and minority rights, as well as the rule of law, and reforming the judiciary, media and police. There is a lot we can do together. And Serbia can always count on the OSCE’s support in these areas.

    During last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, the people of Serbia expressed their desire for a European-oriented government. There are already visible achievements on this path: the ratification of the SAA by the Serbian Parliament, improvements in co-operation with the ICTY, the adoption of vital reform laws – including a package of judicial legislation – the reform of police education, and the growing sense of stability and progress throughout the country.

    These achievements pave the way for Serbia to take its rightful place in the European family. Greece has been Serbia’s firm friend and partner in this endeavor through the years. The traditional relationship of trust and mutual respect between our peoples is a solid foundation on which we can build a common future of prosperity. Greece’s OSCE Chairmanship is an opportunity for Serbia to further accelerate its steps on the path to European integration.

    The development of Pan-European Corridor X into a modern highway linking Thessaloniki and Belgrade with Central Europe is both a symbol and an instrument of this integration, as it will further strengthen the bonds between our peoples while spurring regional economic growth.

    My visit to Belgrade is nothing less than tangible assurance of my support for and solidarity with the Serbian people as they continue to strive towards implementation of their reform agenda and they embrace the European family.

    Thank God there are countries like Greece!

  5. Owen

    Jonathan, I’m referring to people I’ve had encounters with, and specifically I was referring to Svetlana’s claim about Serbian hospitality in the context of the discussion about pressure to allow Serbia to become a member of the EU on Serbia’s terms rather than anyone else’s.

    Your comment about the reaction to foreign visitors “opining” suggests that the hospitality isn’t quite as overwhelmingly unconditional as you suggest. I’m afraid I’d probably qualify as one of your opiners. I know there are some Serbs who would give me a warm welcome but I’m not sure I’d be receiving quite the universal welcome you suggest if I chose not to keep my mouth shut on matters of common interest.

    I noticed that during her visit to Serbia Dora Bakoyannis declared that Belgrade had made every effort to capture war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic and turn him over to the ICTY, and her visit does seem to have had rather more rapturous acclamation than that of Serge Brammertz, so perhaps I should consult her for tips on acceptable visitor etiquette.

    After his meeting with Ms Bakoyannis, who is also chair of the Organization
    for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Vuk Jeremic expressed his own special version of hospitality by insisting that Belgrade will block any attempt by Kosovo to join the OSCE.

  6. Sarah Franco

    Svetlana, of course Serbia belongs to the european family.
    OSCE’s work in supporting reforms in Serbia is the proof that Europe wants to push Serbia on the path of democratization. OSCE is not a greek organization, is a european wide organization. To this we can add the work of the Council of Europe and of the European Comission and the European Parliament in support of democratic reforms in Serbia.

    Thank you for posting this, as another proof that the democratic world is not against Serbia, but, on the contrary, is supporting democratic reforms in Serbia.

  7. Owen

    Just to make it clear, Jonathan, I’m not talking about the ordinary warmth with which one human being hopefully greets a stranger. What I’m talking about is a willingness to share difference and tolerate dissenting opinion, and essentially the problem is as you describe it – that other people’s views are dismissed as rubbish by people who are isolated from a different perspective or unwilling to acknowledge it. Even Serbs who express the opinion that Kosovo/a is not Serbia seem to be greeted with less than wholehearted cordiality.

  8. svetlana

    So you admit Owen that there are even Serbs who do not share the opinion as other Serbs, but still you claim that it is the whole nation that does not provide the hospitality that would suit you. On the other hand, you expect to say to Serbs that thay should be slaves, and to be blamed for everything and be tortured forever and expect them to kiss you. If I were you, I would reconsider my statements and find the roots of such a hatred towards people of Serbia from your side, because I bet you as a human right activist didn’t do anything to help Serbs just because of their nationality, or did you? Did you do anything for families of those Serbs who went missing in Kosovo? Did you do anything for the masacred Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia? Maybe for refugees Serbs? Enlighten me! I think the problem of Serbs is from what i read above their natinality and nothing else. Otherwise all victims would be treated the same!

  9. Sarah Franco

    “””you expect to say to Serbs that thay should be slaves, and to be blamed for everything and be tortured forever and expect them to kiss you”””

    Svetlana, I consider the tone that you are using in this comment not to be the most appropriate one. Owen has never said or implied that Serbs should be slaves, or that they should be tortured forever.

    In fact you are implying that there is racism of our part against Serbs. That is totally unfair. There is no hatred here on our side.

    There is only a strong commitment for the truth, justice, reparation to victims and eventually when these are met, reconciliation.

  10. Owen

    Svetlana, I certainly don’t hate Serb/ian/s, I simply get exasperated beyond patience by some of them and sometimes I end up expressing my impatience in sweeping generalisations.

    I’m not going to parade my sympathies for anyone in order to justify my concern for someone else, but I assure you I don’t hate Serb/ian/s and I feel sympathy for anyone subjected to abuse and suffering – having been forced to leave my home in circumstances that caused me fairly trivial distress I feel great sympathy for anyone forced to become a refugee.

    However I object very strongly to being put under pressure by people who demand that I respond to their own misfortune while they appear to have fairly little regard for the suffering others have had inflicted on them.

    The anger – you call it hatred – that you accuse me of directing towards all Serb/ian/s is actually directed at those Serb/ian/s who treat my concern for people who have suffered at the hands of your country as being motivated above all by a determination to prevent them securing a long overdue amnesty for all concerned.

    I certainly don’t want you as a Serb/ian to be my slave, I don’t want you to be blamed for everything and tortured for ever and I’m even rather uncertain about owning up to wanting you to kiss me. But I really do want you and your compatriots to stop turning your eyes away from everything inconvenient and then insisting I must turn my eyes away as well.

    I know some Bosniaks. Occasionally they too cause me some collective irritation (I’m afraid I can be an excessively prickly character at times). The reason why I get annoyed is that in spite of all these people have suffered so many of them choose to keep the memory of all they have been through to themselves and turn their pain inwards on themselves. They don’t express fury at their suffering, they don’t seek recognition for their plight, they don’t even demand that the world get a move on with the business of securing justice for them, they simply carry on with the terrible task of trying to put the pieces of their lives together. They just don’t have the time or energy to shout out for justice.

    Just occasionally I get slightly irritated with them because in my rather insensitive way I feel that they should be shouting out their anger, in the same way that these Serb/ian acquaintances of mine keep shouting at me because they’re angry that I don’t want to pretend that nothing really happened, that everything’s alright again and that they should be granted everything they want.

    But I know that that’s not how real suffering expresses itself. Real suffering doesn’t shout and insist and reproach. Real suffering is quiet and almost unnoticed, expressing itself in an amazement and gratitude that other people actually notice your grief.

    It may be my insensitivity again but I find it difficult to perceive real suffering in the angry onslaught of the collectivity of “victimhood” that blames me and my fellow Westerners for its isolation. That doesn’t mean I’m going to deny the misery endured by Serb/ian victims of the violence unleashed on the countries of the Balkans in their name.

    I can take your anger, it’s not got the feel of personal nastiness that I’ve been aware of in the rebukes other people have directed at me, and if you want to criticise me and my attitudes feel free to pick holes in my arguments and convictions. I’d just prefer it though if you were a bit less violent in your tone.

  11. Owen

    “t’s not got the feel of personal nastiness that I’ve been aware of in the rebukes other people have directed at me” – to make it clear I’m not referring to anyone here.

  12. Sebaneau

    The charges have been sufficiently proved
    By Dunja Melčić, Helsinška povelja (Belgrade), March-April 2006; Bosnia Report, April – July 2006, New Series No: 51-52

    The beginning of the trial of Slobodan Milošević in September 2002 was a historic event: for the first time in Europe a head of state had been indicted by, and brought before, an international court. The second historic moment – the delivery of a verdict – never happened. Milošević died from heart failure just a couple of weeks before the end of the main hearing. This inglorious conclusion does not mean, however, that no opinion is possible on the weight of evidence against the accused and on the credibility of his defence….

    The Serbian Nazi past and the
    manipulation of Jasenovac victims
    Povijest Bosne i Hercegovine, 19 December 2006

  13. Sarah Franco

    Thank you Sebanau for the links.

  14. svetlana

    Owen, Alija Izetbegovic never even went to the Hague (and remember the masacres conducted by Mujahedinis and other muslims) and died naturally and Tudjman as well (just find the number of slain Serbs and operations “Storm” and other ethnic cleansings. Serbs at least handed in Milosevic. I hope, and I really hope we will find Mladic and send him there as well because i do not deny what happened in Srebrenica and you falsly accused me of being a denier of atrocity there. If he were a real hero he would hand himself in and really save his people from all these problems that we face today. But as a person whose family suffered so much during the last 18 years because of all this madness, sanctions, wars, this ws not a normal life believe me even in Serbia. I think you do not have the right of behaving like you do and putting my sentences out of the context (my grandmother and two aunts while still being kids were found by my father, who was seven at that time in 1943, with slit throats next to the burnt house and still he never said any bad word about any Croat, by the way one ustasha saved him and his two brothers (4 and 9 years of age at the time) from the rest of the killing mob by hiding them, maybe he was tired of cutting throats… ) And of course I was strongly indicating that I am for condemning every crime commited. War can bring out animals in people and those in charge of half-mad people should be in the Hague and finally leave us alone to try to put our lives together and not to always end up in quarrels and revoke bad memories. I never wanted any war, I was a kid, nobody asked me or my parents what we would like and still you insist on poking at us Serbs, Serbs who never had anything to do with such monsterous crimes and who were also victims of all that madness. Instead of having a normal life like teenagers have in the rest of the Europe, i was obliged to share house with 10 refugees, our relatives from Croatia. I was obliged to look at my parents suffer, grow old in solving existential problems and feeding 10 people with 2-3 german marks salaries and pensions (i am talking about university degree holders). And then when it all started getting back to normal the bombings. Since my father was suspected of having a cancer and sent to hospital, on 24th of March, the day the bombing started, they sent him home, so he could’t even get the medical treatment he needed at the hospital for the hospitals were also targets. He came back home, depressed, bombings were on… you can just imagine… he just could’t bear the fact that he would become a burdeon with his cancer to the family and he went and hung himself. So yes continue poking just Serbs who never had anything to do with the war crimes, who never wanted wars, who just wanted normal lives and who woul’d even kill a fly. And yes I think you should have killed us all by your bombs (angel of mercy), how ironic.

  15. Sarah Franco

    Svetlana, nobody here made any attempt to minimize your suffering.

    I recommend you these two texts written by a Serb too:

  16. Owen

    Svetlana, I don’t think I accused you of denying Srebrenica, because I was aware that you acknowledged it in passing. But you moved on very quickly, in a way that experience has taught me to interpret perhaps too hastily. As a result I was dismissive of what you said, and I apologise for that, because you weren’t who I assumed you to be.

    If I can offer an excuse it is that as I read the rest of what you wrote so much of what you said was very familiar to me from encounters in the past with movers-on who blame the West and everybody else for their misfortunes while never offering any indication of genuine regret or sympathy for anyone else.

    Those people were apologists for and deniers of genocide, people who tried desperately to convince me that I couldn’t know what I knew, people who demanded respect while showing none for other people, and people who were not beyond occasionally playing malicious tricks as well.

    So that’s why I reacted with so little sympathy to what seemed to be yet someone else pleading the special case for Serbia. I accept that my words were abrasive and I’m sorry that they have obviously caused you genuine pain. I should have been more careful with my anger, but I hope you understand why sometimes that is difficult.

  17. svetlana

    Something more on the denial of death concentration camps, while ustashas gather even today in Croatia in numbers of 30 000 on concerts of Thompson, famous Croatian singer who glorifies fashism and their criminal past and sings most awful lyrics about slaying Serbs in Jasenovac and Stara Gradiska.

  18. Sarah Franco


    As I said, nobody here is trying to deny or minimize Jasenovac. My point was about how the memory of the war in the 1940s was manipulated to create the impression that the wars in the 1990s were a mere continuation of what had happened in the 1940s. Unfortunatelly, and I am convinced you also are aware of that, many people invoke the 1940s to abstain themselves of facing the recent past. The architects of Greater Serb project very skilfully relied on that. It becomes thus a fallacy, and an abuse on the victims themselves. The other fallacy is the idea that people in South-East Europe are mad and thus bloddy wars happen. This is based on the idea that violence is irrational. Most of the violence that happened in the wars obeys to cold rationality, it’s profoundly cruel and absolutely immoral, but not irrational, and here I mean Jasenovac as well as Srebrenica, because the victims may not be the same, neither the executioners, but the totalitarian mind-set is exactly the same.

    Of course I find Thomson outrageous.

  19. Owen

    Svetlana, some of us consider that whatever the excuses people make for Thompson his failure to condemn the behaviour of his Ustasha-supporting fans is sufficient condemnation of his own stance. However if you read carefully through the item that your second link connects us to, you might understand how people sympathetic to the commemoration of Jasenovac would not feel comfortable with the people organising such events. That’s not denial.

  20. Sebaneau

    Srđa Popovic:
    I want to address a very practical and tactical issue. In my opinion, no civil society can develop in Serbia, in Yugoslavia, before the issue of war crimes has been resolved. The enormity of those crimes is such that, really, you cannot have any other agenda. This is so enormous, this involved. . . . The crimes are actually a big part of the identity of that society today. And there is enormous denial. And that denial can be understood-and I understand it-first of all as a consequence of the enormity of the crimes. The more terrible the crimes, the more likely it is that they are being denied; psychologically, it is understandable. The other thing is that during the past ten years too many people were involved, and those are, first of all, the voters who on a regular basis reelected Mr. Milosevic and gave him a further mandate to commit those crimes. But it is also the press, the journalists, academia, church, military, police, intellectuals, everybody of any consequence in that society-not literally, of course; there were a few exceptions. Left to themselves, no one would try anyone for war crimes in Yugoslavia. The society is too evil to prosecute anybody, try anybody, have public support for such trials, it’s just out of the question. And at the same time, this very fact, of course, prevents civil society from developing, because civil society is a threat. So in my opinion, if anybody wants to work on building our civil society in Yugoslavia, the best he can do is to support The Hague Tribunal. If you are a journalist, a lawyer, a writer, a human-rights activist, a member of an NGO, the best you can do, practically, is to concentrate all your efforts on one single forum, and that is to support The Hague Tribunal, because that is the only place that can produce some kind of justice for society, regardless of who is in power.

  21. What Belgrade historians fail to acknowledge is the fact that Croats and Bosniaks also died in Jasenovac. They have worked for years to voluntarily increase numbers of Serb victims of Jasenovac, some of them suggesting 1.5 million, when in fact around 50,000 Serbs died there according to the Holocaust Memorial Museum (and by Yugoslav sources that were kept secret, the number is about 30,000+). Then you have Bosniak, Croat, Roma, and Jewish victims who were also massacred in Jasenovac by the Ustashe, as documented in the book “Bosniaks in the Jasenovac Concentration Camp” .

    The list of Srebrenica Genocide Denial institute, known as, “Jasenovac Research Institute” also contains names of my relatives who were killed by Serbian Chetniks. They are presented as Serb victims killed by Ustashe.

  22. frunobulax

    December, 2008: “Israeli embassy in Serbia has handed its highest award to children and grandchildren of Serbs who risked their lives to save Jews from death during World War Two.”

    “With the deepest of respect I fulfill my duty today and hand the Righteous among the Nations medals to those who risked their own lives by saving Jews during World War Two,” Israeli Ambassador to Serbia Arthur Koll said at the awards ceremony.”

    “The title of “Righteous among the Nations” is the highest honor that the state of Israel awards to non Jews.”

    It should be noted that holocaust research and documenting carried out by Israel tends be rather thorough. Perhaps their knowledge of events is somewhat different from Cohen’s.

    By the way, Cohen’s grandfather was the personal physician to King Alexander in Belgrade. He was dismissed by the King under suspicious circumstances related to gold smuggling and his medical career was all but destroyed. Though, of course, it would be churlish to suggest that this may have influenced the impartiality of the professional dentist who, between tooth pulls and plaque polishing, authored “Serbia’s Secret War”.

  23. Owen

    I guess from the references to Cohen and “Serbia’s Secret War” that the above refers to “Serbia’s Secret War: Propaganda and the Deceit of History” (Eastern European Studies , No 2) by Philip J. Cohen and David Riesman

    To cite the Editorial Review from Library Journal, reproduced at Amazon

    “Cohen, a physician who researched sources never before available to the West, weaves a rich tapestry covering the last 200 years of Balkan history while emphasizing the role the Serbs played in World War II. He gives us a detailed picture of Yugoslav society and politics, with numerous ethnic groups exercising Machiavelli’s dictum: “The end justifies the means.” They manipulate power, quarrel and debate, and, more often than not, murder over the fate of their ethnic societies. This book is not cheerful. With few exceptions, Cohen finds the Serbs propelled by anything but the ideals of tolerance and democratic values. Detailing Serbian anti-Semitism before the war and quoting from collaborationist papers that said, “the Serbs should not wait for the Germans to begin the extermination of the Jews,” he reveals how the Serbian propaganda machine attempted to promote the idea that Serbs, along with the Jews, were the victims of the Nazis. Thus, he shows that the ethnic cleansing the Serbs are engaging in today has deep roots in Serbian culture. Offering a wealth of new information, this impressive, scholarly book is highly recommended for all history collections.” [To conduct his research, Cohen made four trips to the Balkans from 1992 to 1995, where he oversaw a team of native speakers who translated the relevant documents for him. – Ed.] John Xanthopoulos, Florida Atlantic Univ., Boca Rato.

    As one might expect the customers’ reviews are quite markedly different in tone.

  24. One of the strengths of Cohen’s book is that he details the ties between the Nedic regime and the Chetniks. Although the book is mostly known for his use of previously unknown or ignored sources, in some ways it really is an example of jolting the reader into noticing what was there all along–the Chetniks were a royalist, reactionary, paramilitary organization fighting for Greater Serb hegemony, in collaboration with the quisling Nedic regime. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about prewar Yugoslavia should be able to draw the correct conclusions with little more knowledge than that.

    Yet, Western histories of World War II in Yugoslavia all too often completely divorce the (selectively chosen) actions of the Chetniks from both their rhetoric and ideology, and their ties to the fascist-allied regime in Belgrade.

  25. Owen

    Svetlana seems to have moved on elsewhere without returning to my comment about the doubts people may have regarding the organisations who have assumed responsibility for bringing Jasenovac to international attention.

    She had referred me to an article from 2005 under the title “Western Media Ignores Serb, US Memorials of Jasenovac Death Camp”, which criticised the Western media for “swarming” to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and then ignoring a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the closing of Jasenovac.

    What happened at Jasenovac must not be minimised. Whatever the actual number of deaths, the figures are atrocious. But we do need to be wary of the way those figures have been exploited and distorted by propagandists who use the suffering of Serbs between 1941 and 1945 to divert attention and blame from the role of Serbs and Serbia between 1991 and 1995 and war crimes such as the Srebrenica genocide.

    Svetlana’s article referred to and quoted the well-known propagandists Carl Savich of Serbianna.and Barry Lituchy, National Coordinator of the Jasenovac Research Institute.

    Jasenovac Research Institute – – works to promote awareness of the suffering of Serb, Jewish and Roma victims at Jasenovac and seeks to build a community of interest between the victims at Jasenovac and victims of the Jewish Holocaust, in particular in the Institute’s home city of New York. What undermines the merit of the Institute’s commemorative activities is the subtext of its defence of Serbian aggression during the 1990s.

    Barry Lituchy, J.R.I.’s founder, is only one of the Institute’s directors who has published work denying the substance and scale of atrocities including the Srebrenica genocide. His fellow Directors at the Institute include Milan Bulajic, Director of Slobodan Milosevic’s “War Crimes Commission”, Milo Yelesiyevich, author of the celebratory “Ratko Mladic: Tragic Hero”, and Darko Trifunovic, responsible for the notorious first Republika Srpska report refuting the “alleged Srebrenica massacre”.

    Sadly the response of non-Serbs to Jasenovac is often conditioned by suspicion of the motives of those involved in its commemoration.

    Srebrenica Genocide Blog has an article analysing the activities of Jasenovac Research Institute at

    Three individuals have since added comments to the Srebrenica Genocide Blog article claiming that relatives of theirs included by JRI among the dead at Jasenovac died elsewhere or were still alive.

  26. Everytime a nationalist Serb starts to loose in a discussion,the bring up their Jasenovac card to whit-wash every crime they comitted to all the other peoples of former Yugos;avia