The repeating history thesis is a repeating topic of historiography. People who like this thesis usually begin with misquoted Edmund Burke as having said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”. Similar quote, “Those cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, from George Santayana book The Life of Reason (1905-1906). The phrase has become so well-known and catchy that Rene Magritte used it for a title of his famous painting. Very similar saying has been attributed to Winston Churchill. Is history repeating remains a debatable issue. Nevertheless, such belief is widespread, and has a great impact upon political and other decisions.
Is there a plausible connection between events in 1941 and 1991 in ex-Yugoslavia? Did the legacy of WWII somehow influence next war in the region? Do we live within the vicious circle of a single historical tragedy, at least in collective memory? Or such perspective is an essentialist simplification and self-justification? Does such an approach imply determinism and avoiding of the responsibility for each generation. Be as it may, Derrida introduced the term hauntology in which the past and its “ghosts” haunt the present, often in elusive and uncanny way.
In the sad story about Yugoslavia, one could question did the WWII ended in heads and souls of its peoples? When wars start and when they are ended, is a more global question. Some authors claim that the Second World War has begun earlier. In Italy's “long” Second World War began with the Fascist accession to power in 1922, for Germany's it is 1933, Japan's first war year is 1931, in the USSR's there were two possible years: 1929, or perhaps in 1917, Britain's and France's beginning of the war is in the Depression or in the commencement of appeasement policies. The real traumatic issue is when (and if) some wars ended? Politicians and intellectuals in some countries do not let wars to be finished. Dejan Jović states that official Croatia tries to prolong both WWII as well as War of 1990’s by other means. He has called it “war for the war(s) interpretation”. Jović asks the following question: “Is it possible to finish some previous war, especially that one which had become central point of a new political and national identity?”. During the socialist Yugoslavia, WWII commemoration and celebration had been a foundation for the intended integration of the country. In the mythical interpretation of the partisan resistance antifascist struggle was a common cause of all Yugoslav ethnic groups. The basic elements of that myth were narratives of sacrifice and final victory, as well as about the Yugoslav case as special and only one in the world. The story about the equal sacrifice and contribution to Resistance did not succeed to forge common identity. In the course of democratization of 1980’s. silenced truths started to poison ethnic relations within Yugoslavia. Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were becoming increasingly frustrated with the neglecting of their WWII victims. Croats complained about total official silence concerning their victims killed by Communist at the end of the war in 1945.
Some scholars suggest that history and memory should not be opposed in a binary fashion. Dominick La Capra wrote: “Historical research based on written and related documentary sources may contest or correct individual or collective memory, but the opposite may also be the case... memory is posing questions to history (or historiography)”.
Contemporaries of 1991 were very aware of 1941 shadows hanging over their time. The use of 1941 for the purpose of propaganda was usual motive in propaganda war. It started with naming strategy itself. Serbian media often called Croatian armed units “Ustashe”, referring to WWII most extreme pro-Nazi movement. Croatian media used to call Serbian forces “Chetniks”, after mostly Serbian Royalist movement in the Second World War. One of the main “tropes” in Serbian propaganda had been that Serbs had to rebel against new Croatian state, in order to prevent massacres from the time of the last independent Croatian state in 1941. Borisav Jović, president of the incomplete Yugoslav collective Presidency (incomplete because Croatian and Slovene representatives had leaved the Presidency) described in his interview for a British documentary Death of Yugoslavia, how leaders of Croatian Serbs had been frightened by the “approaching of the time” of WWII Independent State of Croatia and its entire anti-Serbian politics. Petar Gračanin, a Federal Secretary of Interior in 1991, explained in an interview for the same documentary, how he had instructed Croatian Serbs to build barricades against “Ustasha attacks”.
The new independent Croatia did not do anything to appease the Croatian Serbs. On contrary. The resurrected Croatian state reintroduced terminology and iconography of WWII. Military ranks, name of the country’s currency, administrative terminology were the same ones, or ominously similar to those of 1941. As a title of a Slavko Goldstein’s book “1941: a year which returns” suggests, 1941. has become a year of revived existential fears for ones (Serbs in Croatia), and a year of the triumphal state resurrection for others (right wing Croats). Therefore, 1941 has become an inspiration to prevent such evil, or to revenge misdeeds of the “Others” against “Us”. Remembering past war has been used as a mobilization tool for a new one, rather than a reason for peace keeping and pacification. Unlike other countries, Derridian “ghosts of the past” were not only memories. They were embodied in very much living people and institutions. Confronted Yugoslav nations got the unique opportunity to re-enact history, rather than to repeat it. Mark Twain allegedly wrote: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”. If that is the case, peoples of ex-Yugoslavia have sung one of the most tragic poems of the 20th century.
In the Serbian historiography, comparative studies are rare. By comparison we do not mean only comparing between countries and regions. Perhaps the different periods from one own history could be compared. Therefore, the Institute for Contemporary History has decided to publish this volume on two Yugoslavia’s break ups. First Yugoslavia broke up after occupation by the Third Reich, Italy, and their allies in 1941. The second Yugoslavia disappeared in a row of civil wars starting in 1991. These two years seemed to be plausible topics for comparison. Oddly enough, we do not have studies that literally compare these two periods, although some authors (Bojan Dimitrijević, Kosta Nikolić, Milan Gulić) did research both 1941 and 1991. We have faced a dilemma: should we abandon the entire idea of the volume encompassing both beginning of the WWII in Yugoslavia and the beginning of 1990’s “War(s) of Yugoslav succession”? We decided to publish a selection of studies covering 1941 and 1991, side by side. Truly, it is not a real comparative research. But it could be a beginning and an inspiration of future studies which should establish relations and prove possible commonalities between two times. Papers collected in this volume represent state of the art in these two realms of historiography.
First contribution in this volume deals with so called April War. After an Anti-Axis coup d'état, supported by literally all Serbs, including Church, intellectuals, media and Army, German leadership decided to punish Yugoslavia, most notably “Serbian conspirators” as Hitler himself stated in his proclamation. For the long time The April war has been described in ideological terms. During the period of Socialist Yugoslavia, the fast defeat had been attributed to the “rotten” bourgeois’ regime of the Yugoslav Kingdom. In 1980’s, time of nationalist reinterpretations of history, Croatian “betrayal” was mentioned as one of the main reasons for the defeat. Miloš Žikić and Marko Miletić are trying to show all complexity and nuances of that short war story.
After the April war, Yugoslavia became the most fragmented country in occupied Europe. Almost all its neighbours either annexed part of Yugoslavia. The Third Reich took parts of Slovenia, Italy gained part of Slovenia and Croatia, Hungary parts of Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, Bulgaria annexed present day Northern Macedonia, Parts of Serbia and Northern Macedonia with the Albanian population were joined into “Great Albania” under Italian protection. Some other regions were “only” occupied. Boris Tomanić tells us a story about the Bulgarian occupation, including the attempt of “bulgarization” of some regions.
Present day central Serbia fell under the German occupation. The NS regime in this territory was one of the most brutal in occupied Europe, comparable to those in Poland, remains of the Czech lands and remnants of Slovenia. Radosav Tucović wrote on the police organization and practice in occupied Serbia.
Very peculiar feature of the WWII in Yugoslavia was massive uprising in 1941, only such in entire occupied Europe, mostly in the areas inhabited by Serbs. There were two resistance movements in Yugoslavia, one monarchist and other Communist. In the beginning they cooperated and liberated a territory in western Serbia, encompassing a million inhabitants. In addition, there were some free territories in the eastern and southern Serbia. Nemanja Dević compared these free territories with “pockets of resistance” in the western parts of USSR.
Rade Ristanović analyses the forms of resistance in Belgrade. The resistance included sabotages, assassinations, saving of Jews, verbal insults of occupiers, etc. Sixty-eight armed actions in the second half of 1941 were something unseen in the most of occupied Europe. In 1941, occupiers and collaborationists arrested 2,975 people on the anti-communist line. It was more than 1% of the entire city’s population.
On the opposite side of the resistance, there were collaborationist forces. Nebojša Stambolija studied different collaborationist armed forces. They included Gendarmerie, Armed Detachments, Kosta Pećanac’s Chetniks (not to be confused with Draža Mihailović Chetniks, resistance movement), and Serbian Volunteer detachments.
Ljubinka Škodrić researched a position of women, a very vulnerable group in any war. In the case of women, a special case of collaboration were intimate relations with occupiers. As for the resistance movements, more women joined the Communist resistance.
Dragomir Bondžić gives an overview of the Serbian intellectual elite in 1941. It had been divided in three key ideological groups even in the pre-war period. Conservatives, who believed in strong state, a nation, Orthodoxy, patriarchal and traditional values. Liberals were proponents of the Western democracies. The third were leftists, socialists or communists. During occupation, they picked up sides according to these orientations.
Goran Miloradović tried to put Ustasha ideology into a broader European context. The Yugoslavian lands had experienced all kinds of modern dictatorships from 1929 to 1990. By this experience it is unique in Europe. Ustasha regime was the worst one. Ustasha Croatia is comparable only to Hungary in the last phase of the WWII (October 1944-March 1945).
The contribution of Vladimir Petrović aims to revisit key events in collapse of Yugoslavia during the early 1990’s. Where were the points of no return? Petrović concluded that Yugoslav history was not repeating. Rather it was re-enacted. Memories of the Second World War played a key role in the national mobilization during the 1990’s.
Bojan Dimitrijević explained a role of the Yugoslav People’s Army in the troublesome 1991. It had been created as a guardian of the values forged in the Communist revolution of WWII. In 1991, its cornerstone, “brotherhood and unity” of Yugoslav peoples, was shattered. The other two “cornerstones” – Communist ideology and Marshal Tito’s cult had already vanished. Unclear military-political aims handicapped Yugoslav People's Army and destroyed its image domestically and abroad. The generals at the highest positions in YPA did not have idea what had to be the Army’s aim in the clash.
Milan Gulić reviewed the creation of the Republic of Serbian Krajina. The Serbs of Croatia had not enjoyed any kind of autonomy in the Socialist Yugoslavia, in spite their huge participation in the Partisan movement, in spite their percentage in the population of Croatia. Fear of the Ustasha revival mobilize them against the new Croatian independence. The Republic of Serbian Krajina was the result of the transformation of the former Serbian autonomous districts.
Kosta Nikolić tries to identify the real war aims in the Yugoslav wars of 1990’s, distinguishing them from proclaimed goals. All sides had hidden and public war goals. Some of them had been formulated before the beginning of the war (Slovene and Croatian ones). Some were transformed during the wars. Politics of Serbs in Croatia evolved from a struggle for cultural and political autonomy to a complete separation from Croatia and decision to remain in rampant Yugoslavia.
If 1941 and 1991 are not parts of the same tragedy, they could be part of the “omnibus” film tied by a single theme. This theme is double breakup of Yugoslavia. These studies are invitation for further discussion, rather than some final conclusion.