The Chetniks and Serbia´s Secret War

A photograph of a Chetnik officer alongisde Nazi Germans
A photograph of a Chetnik officer alongisde Nazi Germans

This is a response to the ongoing attempts by Serbian State Television to rehabilitate the memory of the Serb nationalist Chetnik movement under the leadership of Dragoljub “Draza” Mihajlovic. In the years since the breakup of former Yugoslavia there has been a debate in Serbia about the rehabilitation of the Chetnik movement. Those calling for rehabilitation have argued about the Chetnik movement’s role in fighting the Axis Powers during the Second World War and their role in what is popularly called “The national liberation struggle” or the anti-fascist struggle against the Nazis and their collaborators in the Balkans and former Yugoslavia.

Firstly, the role of the Chetnik movment in fighting the Axis Powers was at best limited. After 1941 the Chetniks collaborated openly with the Axis Powers in Balkans against Tito´s partisans, engaging on the side of the Axis Powers in a number of offensives against Tito´s Partisan Movement. As well as what can best be described as: genocidal massacers of Bosniaks all along the Drina River in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Secondly it was unlike Tito´s partisan movement a solely Serb nationalist in their orientation. Tito´s partisan were multiethnic in character and included all of the nations of the former Yugoslavia, which was one of the reasons why the Chetniks turned on them.
The Chetnik ideology much like the Nazi ideology argued for one large, ethnically pure Serbian state.

In the Chetnik vision, Greater Serbia would consist only of Serbs, under a Serbian king, encompassing Serbia, Vojvodina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and portions of Croatia, including the Dalmatian coast as far north as Sibenik and the inland provinces of Lika and Slavonia.The continued effort to rehabilitate the Chetnik movement is not only an insult to Serb, Bosniak, Croat, Slovine, Jewish Montenegrin and Hungarian anti-fascists who heroically fought the Axis Powers in the Second World War, but an insult to the victims of the Chetniks crimes. Therefore I have decided to re-publish author Jeanne Haskins review of Philip Cohen’s groundbreaking study: Serbia’s Secret War: Propaganda and the Deceit of History; which shows in detail the extent of the Chetniks racist ideology their collaboration with the Nazis as well as that of Milan Nedic´s quisling regime in Belgrade.

serbiassecretwar

By Jeanne M. Haskin

In Serbia’s secret War: Propaganda and the Deceit of History, Philip J. Cohen and David Riesman have a lot to say about Serbian collaboration with the Nazis. It began long before their occupation and before the signing of the Tripartite Pact, as is typical, with a series of anti-Jewish tracts and statements. The fascist entity Zbor, for example, published a tract entitled “Serbian People in the Claws of the Jews,” which urged that “Jewry has to be quickly and energetically liquidated, because otherwise the destruction of Christian civilization is inevitable.”

Other publications, including one entitled ‘Obnova,’ proclaimed that Jews were the ancient enemies of the Serbian people and that the Serbs should not wait for the Germans to begin the extermination of the Jews. What is more, Patriarch Varnava, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, “met with German journalists in January 1937 to express his ‘vivid interest’ in the new Germany and to praise Hitler for leading a ‘battle which serves all humanity.’”

There were several fascist organizations installed in occupied Belgrade with the complete and total cooperation of the Serbs there. These included “the Nazi-backed regime of Gen. Milan Nedic, the Serbian fascist movement Zbor, and various Serbian state security forces, including the Serbian State Guard, the Serbian Volunteer Corps, the Belgrade Special Police, the Serbian Gestapo, as well as the Chetnik guerrilla bands of Kosta Pecanac and the Chetniks of Draza Mihailovic.” Nor was their range limited to Serbia. In pursuit of an expanded and ethnically pure “Greater Serbia,” these organizations operated in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia.

In other words, some Serbs cooperated happily with the Germans as long as they did not interfere with their own processes of exterminating non-Serbs in the territories that they longed for. And so trusted were these Serbs that by the “eight month of German occupation, Minister of the Economy Mihailo Olcan boasted that Serbia ‘has been allowed what no other occupied country has been allowed [and that is] to establish law and order … by means of our own armed forces.’” By December 1, 1941, Nedic was in command of nearly eighteen thousand men, who were armed and equipped by the Germans on 13 December.

Cohen and Riesman state that “Nazi anti-Semitism struck in Serbian society a responsible chord — the Chetnik belief in ethnic purity found at the core of Serbian ultranationalism well before the twentieth century.” They claim that about 15,000 Jews perished in Nedic’s Serbia, comprising nearly 94 percent of the Jewish population. With regard to the camp of Banjica, it was guarded jointly by the Gestapo and the Serbian State Guard, with this function later passing to the Serbian State Guard alone. Executions became daily events, and the lists of intended victims were drawn up in Cyrilic [an alphabetic writing system used by the Serbs]. Banjica survivors reported that the Belgrade Special Police and the Serbian State Guard were responsible for executions and that the victims included children. In all, approximately 23,697 inmates passed through Banjica, of whom 3,849 were slain, predominantly by the Germans but also by members of the Serbian State Guard.

By September of 1944, at least 455 of the remaining Jews were captured by Ljoticites [followers of the Serbian Nazi-collaborator Dimitrije Ljotic], Nedicites [followers of the Serbian Nazi-collaborator Milan Nedic], and Chetniks [followers of the Serbian Nazi-collaborator Draza Mihailovic], who received a reward for every Jew they found. They were brought to Banjica and killed upon arrival. “But long before this in August, 1942, Harald Turner proudly announced that the ‘Jewish question’ of Serbia had been resolved, and Serbia had become the first country in Europe declared Judenfrei.” “Jewish survivors testified that the Chetniks, particularly those under the command of Draza Mihailovic, ‘persecuted Jews mercilessly’ and slaughtered them ‘in a bestial way.’”

Serbian president Milan Nedic on a state visit to Adolf Hitler, September 1943. This photo first appeared in the November 1943, Spanish edition of Signal. (Serbia´s Secret War)
Serbian president Milan Nedic on a state visit to Adolf Hitler, September 1943. This photo first appeared in the November 1943, Spanish edition of Signal. (Serbia´s Secret War)

As for the killing of non-Jews, the Serbs were particularly keen to slaughter Bosnian Muslims [Bosniaks] and Croats who were not part of the Ustashi. Historian Walter R. Roberts notes that within the Herzegovina territory, the Chetniks took terrible vengeance for the atrocities of the Croatian Ustashi. They killed indiscriminately, not caring whether or not the Muslims [Bosniaks] and the Croats had had anything to do with the Pavelic regime.

Fearful of their attacks, some Muslims joined the Ustashi of Ante Pavelic in Croatia and some joined the [anti-Nazi] Communist Partisan movement led by Tito, the man who was later to become Yugoslavia’s premier, while others tried to negotiate with the Germans. However, the Muslims [Bosniaks] soon became opposed to the Pavelic regime. Bosnian Muslim leaders from Sarajevo, Tuzla, Banja Luka, Bijeljina, Mostar, and Prijedor issued resolutions condemning the actions of the Ustashi and the Chetniks, calling for punishment of their crimes and the protection of innocents. Their resolutions urged religious tolerance and assistance to the victims.

With regard to the Communist movement that would eventually win the war in Yugoslavia, Serb participation was disproportionately high in the very beginning but, as its ranks swelled with Croats and Muslims [Bosniaks], their share of involvement dropped to roughly ten percent. “By the end of 1943, Croatia proper — which contained about 24 percent of the Yugoslav population — had provided more Partisans [anti-Nazi resistance fighters] than Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Macedonia, which, combined, made up 59 percent of Yugoslavia’s population. Overall, from 1941 to 1945, the Partisans of Croatia were 61 percent Croat and 28 percent Serb, the rest comprising Slovenes, Muslims [Bosniaks], Montenegrins, Italians, Hungarians, Czechs, Jews, and Voldsdeutsche.” There was little or no cooperation between the Partisans and the Chetniks.

In Stipe Sikavica’s words, Mihailovic saw the Communists as his real arch enemy. He viewed the liberation movement as nothing but an insidious usurper aimed at taking power. Blaming the Croats and the Muslims [Bosniaks] for the war, he hunted them down at every opportunity, while advancing his own plan to establish a “Greater Serbia” throughout much of Yugoslavia. As Jasminka Udoviki and James Ridgeway observed, even the Allies were to conclude that Mihailovic and his Chetniks were pursuing their own plan for dominance that merited cooperation with the Nazis at the expense of the Partisan movement rather than a heroic struggle.

Dragoljub "Draza" Mihajlovic.
Dragoljub “Draza” Mihajlovic.

In the final analysis, Cohen and Riesman say that “the Chetniks variously collaborated with the Partisans against the Nazis, the Nazis against the Partisans, the Italians against the Ustashi, and the Ustashi against the Partisans. As late as February, 1943, Mihailovic was so indiscreet as to state to a British colonel that the Chetniks’ principle enemies were, in order, Tito, the Ustashi, the Muslims [Bosniaks], the Croats, and the last the Germans and Italians.” Hence, whatever it took to gain Greater Serbia was what the Serbs willing to do, including the massacre of Jews.

Explicitly, Cohen and Riesman conclude:

Like the Nazis, who believed that all Germans must live within one large, ethnically pure German state, the Chetniks believed that all Serbs must live in one large, ethnically pure Serbian state. In the Chetnik vision, Greater Serbia would consist only of Serbs, under a Serbian king, encompassing Serbia, Vojvodina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and portions of Croatia, including the Dalmatian coast as far north as Sibenik and the inland provinces of Lika and Slavonia. The Chetnik plan specified that the non-Serbian populations of the coveted lands would be eliminated and that these lands would finally be legally incorporated into Greater Serbia. Regarding the realization of a Greater Serbia, the Chetniks and the Nedic government worked in parallel fashion toward a common goal. The Chetniks contributed to the cause of Greater Serbia by executing a policy of genocide against non-Serbs in the territories they coveted, while Nedic maneuvered politically with Berlin to secure the creation of Greater Serbia under German patronage. The final step of the Chetnik plan was to seize power after the Germans were ousted in an anticipated invasion by the Allies… it is this part of the Chetniks’ endgame — their anticipation that the Allies would eventually oust the Germans — that has provided the basis for the claim that the Chetniks were [pro-Allies.]

And here we find the words “ethnic cleansing,” not for the first time in Serbia’s history:

“A Chetnik directive of December 20, 1941, specified their goal to create an ‘ethnically pure’ Greater Serbia, consisting of Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Vojvodina, ‘cleansed… of all national minorities and non-national elements.” This directive further specified the necessity of “cleansing the Muslim population from the Sandzak and the Muslim [Bosniak] and Croatian populations from Bosnia and Herzegovina.” “Between 86,000 and 103, Muslims died during the Second World War. The majority of these perished at the hands of the Chetniks.”

Even before World War II, however, the Serbs had planned ethnic cleansing against another group in a document entitled “The Expulsion of the Albanians”:

If Germany can evict hundreds of thousands of Jews, if Russia can transport millions of people from one part of the continent to another, a few hundred thousand evicted Albanians will not provoke a world war. The deciding bodies must know what they want in order to carry through with their plan and not worry about world opinion… The only effective way is evicting Albanians from their triangle en masse. To cause the massive emigration the first prerequisite is to generate fear. It can be created in many ways… Agitators should be found as soon as possible to promote eviction, especially if Turkey is willing to give us some of these agitators.. The second condition is pressure by the state apparatus. It should make the utmost use of all legal means in order to make the Albanian existence here as bitter as possible: fines; arrests; the ruthless application of all police sanctions; punishments for smuggling, cutting trees and letting dogs loose; forced labor;… Old deeds should be rejected, land registry should be stopped, but all the taxes as well as all public and private debts should be ruthlessly collected. The use of state and community pasture lands should be banned; all concessions… should be abolished; they should not be granted monopoly licenses and should be fired from state, private and self-employment… Sanitary measures, such as the forceful implementations of regulations even inside their homes, knocking down the walls and high fences around their dwellings, the rigid implementation of veterinary laws which would continually prevent the selling of cattle at the market and so forth can all be done effectively and practically. Albanians are most sensitive in religious matters. That is where we should hit hardest. It can be done by molesting their clergy, plowing the graveyards… Even private initiative can have great effect. Our colonists should be given arms, if necessary. The traditional Chetnik method should be used in those areas. Chetnik actions there would need secret support. A horde of Montenegrins from the mountains should be sent down to provoke massive clashes with the Albanians… With the help of our secret forces the conflict should be prepared in advance. It should even be encouraged, which will not be difficult if the Albanian resistance is fierce. The whole case should be calmly presented as a conflict between clans and tribes and if necessary, it should be characterized in economic terms. In extreme cases, some local uprisings can be provoked which would later be put down by blood — the most effective means. This should not be done directly by the army, but rather by our colonizers, Chetniks and Montenegrin tribes.

For those who are already familiar with the pattern of Serbian action against non-Serbs in Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995, there are several things that leap out for attention. The first is the ruthless use of administrative and guerrilla measures to make the ethnic Albanians want to leave their country. The second is that the Serbs were well aware that the world was watching but calculated that they could get away with what the Germans and the Russians had already done before the court of world opinion so long as they presented it as a “tribal” or “ethnic” conflict. The third is that they still recognized that the secret and supposedly detached involvement of the Chetniks would be the best means of attack. These are all things that Serbia was to repeat during the war of the present era when the victims were the Muslims [Bosniaks].

This review was republished from : Bosnian Genocide WordPress

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