February 02nd 2012 08:33:43 PM
There was a November article, or perhaps blog, in The Wall St. Journal, which escaped notice at the time but made the rounds on the English-speaking Serb circuit last week. The article was about Jasenovac, and what makes it noteworthy is that it marks the first time, to my knowledge, that the WWII “Serb-cutter” has made it to the pages of the mainstream presses.
Disfiguring Jasenovac (by Goran Mijuk, Nov. 9)
The Jasenovac concentration camp, often described as the “Auschwitz of the Balkans” for the raw brutality exhibited by its fascist commanders and guards who ran the camp from 1941 to 1945 in the Independent State of Croatia, continues to stir strong emotions. But, shamefully, often the wrong ones and for the wrong reasons.
Instead of grief and sorrow, a morbid debate about the number and ethnic background of the victims, many of whom died most brutally by having their throats cut with a special knife known as the “Srbosjek” or “Serbcutter,” is still overshadowing the darkest chapter of Croatia’s history.
The latest episode, reflecting the confusion surrounding this unfortunate story, happened in Spain, where a TV documentary about Croatian fascist commander Maks Luburic, known as “Maks the Butcher” who fled to Spain after World War II, failed to mention Serbs as victims of the Jasenovac camp.
(Note, this ubiquitous “failing” is not a failing, but a deliberate suppression that pervades even every last Holocaust museum including Yad Vashem in Israel. Similarly, in a History Channel documentary about the Tuskegee Airmen — which I happened to catch while at the gym — during the part where 500 American pilots were saved in Yugoslavia, the word “Serb” was carefully avoided.)
Spanish TV reacted by issuing an apology to Serbs. [NOW THERE’S A FIRST FOR SURE!] They had vehemently criticized that the documentary mentioned “partisans, political opponents, jews and gypsies” as victims but failed to mention Serbs, who constituted the majority of those killed in the camp.
The Serbs’ reaction can be understood as the failure to mention them as victims is opening old wounds. Since the camp was bulldozed in 1945 by the Communists, Croats and Serbs have failed to close the chapter of this bloody episode of their history. Instead, they have been engaged in a cynical numbers game.
While some Croat historians have put the number of victims killed in Jasenovac as low as 50,000 persons, some Serbian scholars have put the figure close to 1 million or even higher. Unfortunately, there is no official data confirmed by a trustworthy third party, even though there are many serious efforts by both Serb and Croat historians to establish the truth.
“We have never been able to carry out comprehensive research,” said Efraim Zuroff, coordinator of Nazi war crimes research for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of its Israel office.
The Holocaust historian, who said that many mass graves at the site have still not been opened, says that Croatian claims that some 50,000 people were killed “is a gross underestimation” and that he understand that such low-balling “angers” Serbs. But, he says, Serb estimates of around 700,000 may “possibly” be exaggerated, too.
A note on these two points. First, there is frequently a conflation between Jasenovac numbers and the overall numbers of Serbs killed in Croatia. They were being mowed down throughout the countryside of Croatia-Bosnia, and there is a credible, established figure of at least 750,000 Serbs killed in WWII, which I believe is specific to Croatia and doesn’t include Serb lives lost in the war effort. It does, however, include the number of those killed in Jasenovac, which is an unknown figure. So the “700,000″ number is not something random and made-up; it has a basis in fact, but a fact beyond Jasenovac.
Second, a note on the fact that “many mass graves at the site have still not been opened.” Let’s take a moment to ponder the significance of that statement. As I’ve pointed out before, while the earth has been scoured for as many Albanian and Bosnian Muslims as it can produce — with the results conflating fighters, civilians, locations, natural deaths, war crime deaths, battle deaths and infighting deaths — we still have unexcavated civilian Serbian bodies, mass graves the man said — from WWII. Just like the Ukrainian soil that’s still belching out Jews. And this isn’t even mentioning Serbian bodies from the 90s that aren’t accounted for, because no one is interested in those. The whole thing has been a grand charade, and the writer of the article becomes part of it with his moral equalizing between Serb and Croat.
Since no one knows for sure, many Croats and Serbs feel invited to throw in their guesses, thereby desecrating the dignity of each individual victim. Worse, a serious debate about the real perpetrators of these heinous crimes is virtually blocked, giving rise to perpetual political manipulation.
(Note the passive tense here; writer Goran Mijuk doesn’t define the blockers of the debate.)
Mr. Zuroff noted that the Jasenovac camp museum, which opened in 2007, fails to mention any of the camp’s commanders [note this is the FIFTH use of the term “failed”] but instead refers only generically to the Ustashi, the Croat fascists who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII, as the camp’s executioners.
While Mr. Zuroff said that the trial of Dinko Sakic, the camp’s commander, in 1999 was one of the most important moments in the history of modern Croatia, failure [SIX!] to educate students properly was deplorable. He describes the Jasenovac museum as a “squandered opportunity” to face up to the crimes.
Communist rule under former Yugoslav strongman Tito is much to blame for the fact that the history of the Jasenovac concentration camp has never been fully dealt with. But this deficiency, which is also endemic in the Baltics, has proven fatal here.
(Ah, the more unequivocal word “blame” — as opposed to “fail” — is reserved for Tito’s communism. While this is accurate, it’s also a common Croatian ploy to place the brunt of the blame for everything including their bloodthirst that ensured the 1991 war — on Communism. And Mr. Mijuk is, I believe, partly Croatian.)
Two writers, who later gained political prominence, used the intellectual vacuum to publish their own accounts during the 1980s after the death of Tito, who tried to suppress the truth about the camp to foster a Yugoslav identity.
One was Vuk Draskovic, who later would become foreign minister of Serbia, the other, Franjo Tudjman, the first Croatian president after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Both won fame and notoriety by using the atrocities committed during WWII for their own ends: Draskovic to vividly depict the genocide committed against Serbs [the nerve of him!], Tudjman to support his ideas that Serbs wanted nothing but to deprive Croatia of its independence.
Only a few years after the publication of their respective books, Yugoslavia fell apart in a brutal civil war as old inter-ethnic hatred was revived to rally the population to engage in another round of senseless slaughtering. Serbs blamed Croats of trying to resurrect their fascist fiefdom, while Croats argued Serbs instrumentalize Jasenovac to justify a land grab in Croatia.
Mr. Mijuk, you might consider checking out whether either of these had a basis in fact. You’d find that resurrecting the Nazi-era Croatian flag, currency, Ustasha street names and military appointments — not to mention swastikas among every vendor’s offerings — were actual events — and not a “blame” by Serbs. Count it among the multitudes of “Serbian propaganda claims” that checked out. Then try to figure out if a country can make a “land grab” within its internationally recognized borders, or whether not wanting one’s throat sliced after suddenly finding oneself under the rule of one’s former executioners, constitutes the motive of “land grab.”
While Jasenovac can’t be used to explain the fall of Yugoslavia, it is evident that the unresolved history of this camp has and is stirring unhealthy emotions and is being misused by Croats and Serbs alike to depict the other side in the most cruel terms.
One side is actually cruel, Mr. Mijuk.
It is paramount that comprehensive and objective research is being undertaken to detoxify the cynical debate about figures that dehumanizes the crimes and serves as an excuse for a perpetual tit-for-tat that continues to this day and creates a troubling and confusing picture of the Balkans. Failing [SEVEN!] to sober up and face the facts is producing a vicious circle for which the recent wars offer testimony.
“I would personally be very pleased to be part of an effort to determine the scope of the murders. It is a very important step towards reconciliation,” Mr. Zuroff said.
As breakthrough as this article is for something as noxious as the WSJ, I’d give it a grade of F. (FAIL)