Godwin’s Law “on speed”
Two weeks ago, the cover page of a pro-establishment Serbian daily, displayed a photograph in which Milo Đukanović, president of neighbouring Montenegro, is photoshopped to look like Adolf Hitler. This was accompanied by the headline “Milo like Hitler – Making lists of Serbs as Hitler did with Jews”. The reason was that Montenegro police prevented a small number of football hooligans to attend a football match and some of them were ethnic Serbs.
Disgusted with this, as a Jew, journalist and foremost as a human being, I posted a harsh critique on my social accounts. A number of comments under my post were along the lines “we will soon topple the government of Serbia who allows this to be published in newspapers and they will go through what Eichmann went through in Jerusalem.”
Contrary to what my “friends” on social media understood, my rage, in this particular case, was not directed at the Government of Serbia or this trashy media, but rather at the fact that Hitler is being so evidently normalized and significance of his deeds blatantly diminished. However, responses mentioned above clearly show that people in Serbia don’t understand that. By normalizing Hitler, Serbian media is on board of normalizing Holocaust as well. The comments I mentioned above actually did the same (ie. president of Montenegro is compared to Hitler, president of Serbia to Eichmann) even the authors probably wanted to express some support for my views. How did we end up in a situation where Godwin’s Law
in the Balkans becomes applicable at the early beginning of every discussion, and not towards the end?
To try to answer this question, I will show you an Internet meme that has been shared a lot recently. It is a map of a typical European Capital.
We can see that in the centre of the typical European Capital there is an avenue dedicated to the memory of the World War II. In the capital cities of Serbia and Croatia, those boulevards no longer exist.
Historical revisionism and anti-antifascism that are dominating political discourse in two largest ex-Yugoslav republics, Serbia and Croatia, are some of the major reasons for increased levels of antisemitism and xenophobia in both countries. Although Serbian/Croatian antisemitism is not violent, it is omnipresent in both populations, and especially in the comment sections of the online media, not just alt-right but also mainstream, official, so-called “normal” media.
In Croatia we have an old school antisemitism, antijudaism as defined by David Nirenberg, but also antizionism.
In Serbia, the situation is slightly different. Serbs, both journalists and their readers, usually strongly support Israel and actions of the Jewish state and it’s military. However, any mentions of the Jews as a nation or culture usually provokes ridicule such as “shadow government”, “evil bankers”, “New World Order”, “…Clinton’s Jewish cabinet bombed Serbia in 1999”, etc. This is quite unique case and complete opposite of what we have in other European countries: in most of Europe antizionism is a pathway toward antisemitism - people claim that they do not dislike Jewish nation but condemn Israel politics or military activities.
But, antisemitic radicalisation of Serbia is in fifth-gear, with Nazi rock bands and pro-Nazi youth groups such as Band Kristallnacht and a very active group “Club 28 Serbia” (28 for B and H, Blood and Honour – derived from Hitlerjugend Blut und Ehre)
Below is the poster for their recent event.
Definition of the term
"Anti-Antifascism" is a "fusion of political momentum and pseudo-scientific attempts to discredit anti-fascist values and traditions, with an attempt to put antifascism side by side with totalitarianism. This leads to reducing the importance of fascist crimes, rehabilitation of collaborationists and re-evaluation of victims and perpetrators during the Second World War. The key element of anti-antifascism is a vigorous anti-communism. On the one hand, its objective is to fully equalize fascism and communism, all the while rejecting the values of the socialist social system. Therefore, it denies any legitimacy to the socialist episode in the history of the countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, in an attempt to discredit and dismiss the anti-fascism itself
I will ask you a question: Is it possible to sincerely condemn the Holocaust and at the same time lead a cultural and state policy of "anti-antifascism"? Should one segregate victims of this collective crime, in such a way where ones would be graced with remembrance, and others, because of their ideological grounds, forgotten and less important?
Serbs rightly point out the monstrosities that took place in Jasenovac
, but conveniently forget their own Nazi collaborationists. Croats, on the other hand, deflect from the topic of Jasenovac by invoking atrocities perpetrated by Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army (JNA) in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
And the Jews are only ever considered as collateral. The Holocaust was always perpetrated by the other side, no one from “our” side ever took part in the Holocaust. It is only a short step from Holocaust denial to open antisemitism.
Are we doing justice to the victims of Jasenovac if we don't publicly and continually condemn, or talk about those Serbs and citizens of Belgrade, who were the executioners of the quisling regime led by Milan Nedić
? Or if we do not condemn Serbian fascist movement "Zbor" of Nedić’s cousin Dimitrije Ljotić
, organisation that wooed Nazi leaders when they first arrived in Belgrade.
Terrible crimes committed in Belgrade and Serbia, seem to be no longer important, also because many of the victims were communists. They were Jews and Roma, but communists, too. In Slovenia and Montenegro, these heroes still have squares and streets named after them, they have monuments and, above all, respect. Serbia and most of Croatia wiped them out. Serbia and Croatia of today are ashamed of what they should be proud of, and they are proud of what should be shameful.
The birth of historical revisionism in the Balkans
I believe we are all aware of the dangers of revisionism: rewriting the past for political purposes is detrimental for both understanding of the modern history, but also the future that we strive to build on healthy foundations. Many great historians and sociologists have pointed to the perils of revisionism in a large number of publications and in my work I have called attention to the relationship between revisionism in former Yugoslavia, and the new wave of antisemitism and xenophobia.
I also believe that revisionism, which had started to develop in Serbia and Croatia in the late 1980s, and then metastasized in Serbia after the 5th October Overthrow
, actually diminishes the importance of each victim of the concentration camps in Jasenovac, Topovske šupe
, as well as Auschwitz. Social and intellectual climate in many Balkan countries offends both common and personal sentiments.
The new wave of revisionism started immediately after Franjo Tudjman became leader of Croatia, in 1991. The old Ustashe symbols under which many Communists, Serbs, Jews and Roma perished were again “in” and no longer forbidden. Interestingly enough, Tudjman’s counterpart in Serbia, Slobodan Milošević was not so keen on changing WW2 history. But, when opposition finally got the reigns of power in 1997 things started to change in Serbia: for example, the first act of then the newly elected Mayor of Belgrade, Zoran Djindjić, in 1997 was to take down the red star from the roof of the city hall building. This moment represents a powerful symbol of what was yet to follow.
And as predicted, the period after the fall of Milošević regime in Serbia is characterized by targeted and ruthless state revisionism, when the significance of the crimes committed by Nazis and their collaborators were intentionally reduced. Definition of the State revisionism is that it is an “institutionalized political practice, motivated by historical revisionism, which alters the history for ideological and political purposes, in order to adapt this distorted historical truth to the demands of the present.”
Bearing in mind that nationalist ideology maintains the need for continuity with national elements from the past, the political elite and revisionist intellectuals impose new forms of remembrance. They reduce significance of fascist crimes, rehabilitate quislings and, at the same time, everything that is anti-fascist is being rejected as totalitarian. The results of this systematic historical revisionism are young generations, brought up on nationalistic ideas.
Just two years ago, the Historical Museum of Serbia staged an exhibition titled "In the Name of the People - Political Repression in Serbia 1944-1953". The exhibition targets Tito and the socialist heritage, and inside, we see the same red star taken down from the City Hall by Zoran Djindjić in 1997, a politician who has become both a totem and taboo of the recent Serbian political history.
This exhibition is a proof that audacious and deliberate reinterpretation of history can sometimes have repercussions as severe as the crimes it wants to “interpret”. It neither calls for reconciliation nor for the rational review of this period of Tito's regime. Its only purpose is to incite yet deeper antagonism.
But among many amateurish and deliberately malicious exhibits one is especially disgusting: instead of a photograph from the camp chamber on Goli Otok
, we see Dachau. This is a strong indicator of an ideological tendency of these exhibition curators. They want to teach us how Tito's generals were the same as Nazis, that Goli Otok prison was the same as the Nazi death camps, the camps in which six million men, women and children have died. It is a bigoted, shameful, cruel interpretation and sacrilege against the victims of the Holocaust.
Revisionism and Holocaust remembrance
Holocaust became an everyday leverage point, where the comment sections in almost every paper cries – Yeah, yeah, Jews got it bad, but we, the Serbs, suffered the most. Many comments are simply stating that situation in Kosovo is a lot worse than Holocaust. Those types of comments get many “likes”.
Croatia’s memory practices are similar. Of course, comment sections are full of comparisons – Yeah the Jews got it bad, but look what happened to us Croats in Bleiburg
. There is a commemorative event every year, basically a fascist rally, as Croatian fascist Ustasha insignia and symbols are commonly displayed. Since the 1990s, the event has gained support from mainstream politicians in Croatia, and is officially sponsored by the Croatian Parliament, which funds the event. Austrian government tried to stop gathering in Bleiburg on many occasions, but failed.
writes in his article on the topic of relationship between Croatian Jewish community and the Croatian government that there is a friction between the two. “It was emphasised after a March 2016 Israel-Croatia football match, where Croatian spectators shouted the notorious Ustasha slogan “Za dom spremni” (“Ready for the Homeland”) in the presence of the Croatian prime minister, who apparently sat by without reacting, effectively approving of the rehabilitation and glorification of the Ustasha regime.
On other occasions Croatian government also condoned similar behaviour. Croatian Minister of Culture Zlatko Hasanbegović commented “This is the best way to finally shed light on a number of controversial places in Croatian history.” on a documentary film titled “Jasenovac - The Truth”, by the Croatian filmmaker Jakov Sedlar in which the author contends that Jasenovac had not been a concentration camp where the Ustasha had committed genocide, but rather a far more benign labor camp, and that the number of victims of Jasenovac had been greatly exaggerated.”
In this article, Rosensaft quotes leader of the Croatian Jewish Community: “You cannot reconcile victims and butchers,” declared Dr. Ognjen Kraus, President of Jewish Community of Zagreb. “No one has the right to carry out a reconciliation in the name of those who vanished. If the red star [the insignia of the Partisans] and ‘U’ [the Ustasha’s insignia] are the same, then there’s nothing more to talk about” explained Kraus.
writes about Holocaust remembrance in post-communist Europe: “…post-communist states have also removed anti-fascist resistance from the core memory of the Holocaust, which has allowed for a revival and ideological normalisation of fascist ideological movements in the present… An important piece of Croatia’s new identity construction post-1991 was a complete rejection of the communist past and conflation of this past with Serbian hegemony. The first changes in the way in which Croatia remembers the communist past occurred in the early 1990s, when streets, schools, and public buildings that carried the names of famous partisans or communist leaders – as was the practice across communist Eastern Europe – were overnight changed into names of famous pre-communist Croatian public figures.
This move was important because the legitimacy of post-communist Croatia was based on a complete rejection of communism and a renewed connection to the pre-communist, mythically “nationally pure” character of its statehood. This is why the new post-communist elites insisted on rehabilitating many anti-communist public figures, including many pro-fascist allies. This crisis, however, is not only of Croatia’s own making. In fact, much of Croatia’s memorialization practices follow the narrative framework offered in the 2008 EU Prague Declaration. The Declaration’s statement on “two totalitarianisms” is frequently referred to whenever a discussion arises about proper remembrance of Croatia’s fascist legacies.
Holocaust remembrance, then, is no longer about the Holocaust at all, but is about very acute ontological security needs of new states which are building their identity as fundamentally anti-Communist, which then in turn makes them more legitimately European.”
The same goes for Serbia, only a decade later. A number of initiatives to glorify and rehabilitate Nazi collaborators have been undertaken in Serbia. Many of those have been successful resulting in the court rulings that declare Nazi collaborators “innocent” before the law. The good news that the proceedings to rehabilitate Milan Nedić failed. He was a collaborator prime minister of Nazi-occupied Serbia under whose rule Serbia was declared “Judenfrei”. This happened thanks to hard lobbying and objections of many international Jewish organisations and Jewish communities in the region.
* * *
In conclusion: the attempt to paint everyone with the same brush - Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Tito, Marx, communist heroes Jelena Ćetković
, brothers Ribar
, brothers Baruh
and Mengele, under the pretext of their common totalitarian provenance or support for such political systems, goes far beyond any civilized standpoint and common sense. It turns out that only Jew that we should respect was the one that died without any ideology, with no connection to communism or anti-fascist fight. Antisemitism lies within the presumption that Jewish communists and members of anti-fascists movements were not victims, but collaborationist of another “evil ideology”. The Prague Declaration is therefore very dangerous as the tool of callow governments, it puts the wind in the sails of historical revisionists of the WWII and the result is normalization of the Holocaust and strengthening of antisemitism.
APPENDIX: Prof. Yehuda Bauer on Prague Declaration
Prof. Yehuda Bauer writes on the topic of Prague Declaration in his 2010 article, published in Jerusalem Post
. This seminal text is long-read, but here are excerpts that deserve to be quoted. Mr. Bauer is one of the most relevant Holocaust historians in the world
[START QUOTE]The two regimes were both totalitarian, and yet quite different. The greater threat to all of humanity was Nazi Germany, and it was the Soviet army that liberated Eastern Europe, was the central force that defeated Nazi Germany and thus saved Europe and the world from the Nazi nightmare. In fact, unintentionally, the Soviets saved the Baltic nations, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Czechs and others from an intended extension of Nazi genocide to these nationalities, which while it was not intended to lead to total physical annihilation, as with the Jews, it was aimed at a disappearance of these groups "as such." The EU statement, implying a straightforward parallel between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, therefore presents an ahistoric and distorted picture.
It also implies that the war was initiated by both regimes equally, and that they therefore bear equal responsibility for the death of some 35 million people in Europe alone (if one adds the war in Asia, the total is, according to a number of historians, about 55 million). This is a total perversion of history. In the summer of 1939, Stalin would have sold all Russian mothers for an assurance that Germany would not attack the USSR. He knew very well that his army was disorganized by the purges, and that the USSR was in no condition to withstand a German onslaught alone. Until June 1939, he was still playing with the possibility of a united front with Britain and France against Nazi Germany.
But the negotiations broke down when the Western powers made it clear that their contribution to any common effort would be strictly limited. Poland denied the Soviets - rightly, one supposes - the possibility of marching through its territory, the Soviet intention being, it appears, to avoid having Soviet territory endangered by the Germans, and instead to fight on foreign soil. The British told the Soviets that they would be able to contribute a couple of divisions, and later on more. The French clearly implied that they would defend themselves behind the Maginot Line. The Soviets saw no other way out of the danger but to seek an accommodation with Hitler, especially if they could make territorial gains that would create a new buffer zone west of them.
WORLD WAR II was started by Nazi Germany, not the Soviet Union, and the responsibility of the 35 million dead in Europe, 29 million of them non-Jews, is that of Nazi Germany, not Stalin. To commemorate their victims equally is a distortion.
There is more to it even than that. Communism was a deviation from the ideals of the French Revolution, which Karl Marx had admired…
…The democratic trend came into its own with the development of Marxist social-democratic parties in Central and Western Europe, while the anti-democratic and dictatorial elements became the ideology of the groups out of which communism developed. The USSR, even under Stalin, had these contradictory elements in its basic makeup. The ideal was still the realization of libertarian principles, and the abolition of the state, as Lenin wrote; this can be seen, for instance, in the 1936 Stalin Constitution, a prime example of a wonderfully democratic program.
The reality was the exact opposite: oppression, terror, corruption, murder and torture. But very large numbers of Soviet citizens actually believed in the quasi-liberal propaganda, and I think it was, ultimately, the internal contradictions that became the basis for the collapse of the regime. The economic inefficiency, the corruption and the terror were, in the final analysis, the result of the fact that there was no consistent basis for the communist regime.
With the Nazis it was completely different. There, there was a terrible consistency between a racist, terrorist, anti-Semitic ideology and the way the society was being built. There were no contradictions: World control by war and conquest, and genocidal programs, were the hallmark of the regime. Without military defeat, the Hitler regime would not have disappeared; it would never have collapsed on its own. The Soviet regime did.
It is therefore not that difficult to see how the Soviets in the end were able to collaborate with the West in the defeat of Nazi Germany. They had become an ordinary imperialist dictatorship, embellished by an ideology that bore no relation to real life, employing the usual terroristic methods against real and imagined enemies, but no different from other tyrannies before and after them. Yet, well over 20 million Soviet citizens died in the war, and it was the Red Army that defeated Nazi Germany, though the West certainly helped.
If today, East Europeans can enjoy membership in the European Union, it is due to the fact that they were oppressed and ruled, for 45 years, by a basically inefficient, corrupt and barbarous dictatorship, but not by the Nazis. They were liberated by the Soviets. The West recognizes that, and so, actually, do many East Europeans: They had to get rid of the Nazis first, to begin their tortuous, difficult road of opposition to the Soviets. The Red Army enabled them to do that, though the price was very heavy indeed: 45 years of Soviet oppression. That is the paradox. In the end the East Europeans won, deservedly so. But let us not change history because of that.
One certainly should remember the victims of the Soviet regime, and there is every justification for designating special memorials and events to do so. But to put the two regimes on the same level and commemorating the different crimes on the same occasion is totally unacceptable. Not only to Jews.[END QUOTE]
 American attorney and author Mike Godwin coined his eponymous law in 1990. Godwin's law (or Godwin's rule of Hitler analogies) is an Internet adage asserting that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches”
 The Jasenovac concentration camp was an extermination camp established in Slavonia by the authorities of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during World War II
 Milan Nedić was a Serbian general and politician who served as the Chief of the General Staff of the Royal Yugoslav Army, Minister of War in the Royal Yugoslav Government. During World War II, he collaborated with the Germans and served as the Prime Minister of a puppet government in the German occupied territory of Serbia.
 Dimitrije Ljotić was a Serbian far-right politician and ideologue who established the Yugoslav National Movement (Zbor) in 1935 and collaborated with German occupational authorities in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia during World War II.
 The overthrow of Slobodan Milošević occurred on 5 October 2000, in Belgrade, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, following the presidential election on 24 September, and culminating in the downfall of Slobodan Milošević's government on 5 October 2000. It is sometimes referred to as the 5 October Overthrow
 Topovske šupe was a concentration camp located on the outskirts of Belgrade which was operated by Nazi Germany with the help of Milan Nedić's quisling government during World War II
 The Sajmište concentration camp was a Nazi concentration and extermination camp during World War II. It was located at the former Belgrade fairground site near the town of Zemun, formally in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). The camp was organized and operated by SS Einsatzgruppen units stationed in occupied Serbia but the prisoners were brought to Sajmiste by the local Belgrade police force that was under command of Milan Nedic, Nazi puppet PM of Serbia.
 From 1949 until 1956, throughout the “Informbiro” period, Goli Otok (an island in Croatia) was used to incarcerate political prisoners. These included known Stalinists, but also other Communist Party of Yugoslavia members accused of exhibiting sympathy or leanings towards the Soviet Union.
 Soldiers loyal to the defeated Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH) were killed by partisans in Bleiburg, now Austria at the closing days of World War II.
 “The Ustasha established a network of home-grown concentration camps infamous for their brutality and comparable to the barbarity of the German death and concentration camps. The most notorious of these was a group of five camps collectively named Jasenovac, near Zagreb, often referred to as the “Auschwitz of the Balkans.” According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, between 77,000 and 99,000 Serbs, Jews and Roma were brutally murdered there.” – Menachem Z. Rosensaft, Croatia Is Brazenly Attempting to Rewrite its Holocaust Crimes Out of History, Tablet Magazine https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/246116/croatia-rewrite-holocaust-crimes-out-of-history
 Jelena Ćetković (21 August 1916 – 14 May 1943) was a revolutionary, a fighter for women’s rights, a participant in the National liberation front and a People’s Hero of Yugoslavia.
 Ivo Lola Ribar, his borther Jurica and their father Ivan were all participants of the WWII and members of the Cmmunist Party of Yugoslavia. Ivo was posthumously awarded the title of People's Hero of Yugoslavia. His brother Jurica was also killed in WWII
 Three Jewish brothers, Bora, Josif and Isidor Baruh, were all members of the Yugoslav Partisans. Josif and Isidor died in 1941 fighting German occupation. Bora was captured by Chetniks and handed over to Germans. He was shot by Germans in 1942 in Jajinci, near Belgrade, after being held in concentration camp Banjica in Belgrade.