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NO 149-150

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE1 > Helsinki Charter No. 149-150 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 149-150

March - April 2011


Address at the launch of her books "Contemporaries of Fascism: Perception of Fascism in Belgrade Public in 1933-41" (Volume I) and - "Contemporaries of Fascism: Yugoslavia and Perceptions of Fascism in 1933-41" (Volume II), April 20, 2011

Turning a Blind Eye to Danger


By Olivera Milosavljevic

What motivated me to write these books in the first place was an endurable feeling that fallacy permeates everything that determines the social life in Serbia. Constant, fallacious interpretation of the present through the eyes of the past crystallized two characteristic phenomena: scholars are researching what was researched long ago, and interpreting what was not but is taken for granted. In other words, they research common knowledge and interpret things they know nothing about. So it happened that they "discovered" Goli Otok in 1980s, Jasenovac in 1990s and the day when Draza Mihajlovic was put to death by capital punishment in 2000s. As if these facts have not been generally known for decades. Discovering the known is nothing but a vulgar manipulation, a deception about the present being better and more honest than the "dark" past the imaginary "we" have nothing to do with. Of course, researching of what has been researched makes an easy task - all the information is available in the books written long ago. On the other hand, the unknown is not being researched: such a research would entail years and years of hard work but would not provide you with the material for daily press conferences.

So what is it we get? Surplus of interpretation and deficit of research as new knowledge. Everyone has an interpretation but mostly based on the researches by historians of the past decades and, moreover, mostly the historians of the so-called communist historiography. So even today when we need some concrete information about Yugoslavia's history we resort to the books our professors wrote some 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The plethora of interpretations of well-known facts is of no avail - and is boring.

And how all this happened, particularly when it comes to the studies of fascism and the World War II? Long ago everyone knew that all you have to do is dig into the past and let the relevant information speak for itself. Later on this positivistic historiography was proclaimed obsolete and ascribed to old-fashioned historians. There are no facts about the past, all the facts are in the present, they say. And since everything over here is a semblance, interpretations are semblable to science, and people literally believe in the story about the absence of facts. That is probably why the past has never been as relativized as it is today when they call senseless interpretation science. Interpretative history without facts invested speculation about the past from the angle of the present situation, today's values and standards with a semblance of legitimacy. Today new fascism is sembably weak, communism is no longer and what dominates is something called transition, something producing, like any ideology, its own historians who with their poor knowledge but abundant bumptiousness of the rightful interpret 1930s and World War II.

For them, 1930s are normal and natural state of affairs, they are the past for continuity, while everything in between should be skipped. Their interpretation of the World War II is based on assumptions such as "should have been avoided," "should have been done" or "no one could have known." They justify collaborationism with superior smirk of those who know too well that its contemporaries were not and could not have been aware about its true nature and its goals, about concentration camps and mass murders. Anyway, they say, Yugoslavia was occupied and given that even France had capitulated all that should have been done was waiting for the things to get back to normal. And now when everything is back to normal, they melancholically wonder about ifs and ands had we only pursued the path of glory we abandoned in 1941.

And how did people who knew something, those who lived at the time, perceive those glorious 1930s? In his autobiography Eric Hobsbawn says that the collapse of the world economy in 1930s resulted in an eruption. "Its symbol since 1930 is well-known: black swastika in a white circle on red." And then he says, "Those who have not experienced twenty centuries of the Age of Catastrophe in Central Europe can hardly understand how it was to live in the world that was simply not expected to last, in something that could not have been described other than a provisional way-station between a dead past and a future not yet born." "Living at a time when not only did you know you were on the Titanic but you knew it was going to hit the iceberg. The only question is what was going to happen when it hits the iceberg," says he.

About the same, though less optimistically - which was only logical as he lived here - wrote a student of philosophy from Belgrade in a student magazine in May 1933, "What is it humanity wants to achieve with this uncompromising battle? Will we get a lasting peace or yet another disaster, new misery? The entire world trembles at this question.The cold-blooded history tells us with indifference about centuries of golghota the human race has gone through.Several decade later it may be telling us with same indifference about a bloodshed of modern times in which human mind played the most infamous role in the entire history of mankind.In the general confusion and uncertainty weighting the world, we, the children of the Unfortunate Century, know beyond any doubt: at the time civilization is at its peak the mankind lives without civilization."

In the same year 1933 a conservative domestic sociologist wrote, "The old, 'pre-war' era and its order are gone forever. Whoever doesn't realize that wastes his energy on delusions and illusions. What matters is to take into a new era as much as possible experience and knowledge about the suffering of the great past and the miserable present."

In 1934 the "New French Review" magazine published and "Serb Literary Herald" rerun parts of the article by Lev Trocky saying, "Fascism elevated the scum of the earth to politics. Not only in peasant homes but also in metropolitan skyscrapers 10th and 13th centuries live side by side with the 20th century. Hundreds of millions of people use electric power but still believe in magical powers... Aviators operating magical machines created by human genius wear amulets under their vests. Reserves of dark, ignorance and the wild are inexhaustible! Desperation revived them, fascism gave them a banner. Everything that would be rejected from people's organism as a cultural excrement in normal times is now back in social throat: capitalistic civilization pukes ingested barbarianism. That's the philosophy of national socialism."

That "Titanic" as one of the greatest living philosophers calls it, that "unfortunate century" according to the Belgrade student, that "miserable tomorrow" as the domestic conservative sociologist says and that "indigested barbarianism" according to Trocky, that's the glorious era the ignorants and interpreters of history would want to continue and make us live in it.

As it seems not even "non-existing" facts do not hit in the face all those interpreters of the World War II, whose explanations usually begin with "no one could have known." In all books you will find that Dachau concentration camp was set up on March 22, 1933, eight years before the war in Yugoslavia broke out. On that very day, March 22, 1933, the Belgrade-seated magazine "Vreme" reported, "The first camp to intern communist leaders and other public enemies will be opened on Wednesday in the vicinity of the Bavarian town Dachau. The camp will accommodate 5,000 persons."

Only four months later, on July 23, 1933, the same magazine published a photo of the concentration camp under the headline "Concentration Camp in Dachau." The story run, "Internees of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany had to craft the fence themselves. The camp is surrounded by a concrete wall and triple fence made of barbed wire with electric power at nighttime. Concrete pillars with automatic guns will be erected too, and the guns will start firing the moment someone tries to cut the wire." Thousands and thousands of similar news stories were published in the following eight years till 1941 when, according to the interpreters of the well-known, contemporaries were taken aback seeing that the war reached Yugoslavia as well.

The other interpretive story is the one about communism that is nowadays equalized with fascism. Communism won out by chance only, say interpreters, it collaborated with Hitler and only pretended to be anti-fascist. Thirties are nowadays looked at from the angle of 2011. There is no communism today, there was no communism in thirties hence. There are no capital punishment, prosecution, concentration camps for communist students, hence they were not in Yugoslavia's glorious thirties. Communists were in the East, we, democrats have always been in the West. Today we are all anti-fascists and were in 1930s hence.

In Cambridge in 1935, writes Eric Hobsbawn, his generation was "the reddest and the most revolutionary in the history of the university," in 1930s the left attracted "the best and the brightest students at elite universities in Britain and in the World War II communists were excessively overrepresented in most resistance movements, "not because they were the bravest but because they have always been prepared for the worst."

In early 1930s while conservative writers were calling Hitler "Mister Hitler" in the Belgrade dailies and enhanced rightist a messiah, leftists were labeling him "a bloody dog" and "a cutthroat" in their underground papers. True, they probably had bad manners since they spoke so about a mister but, as it turned out, Hitler would have never been defeated was it not for them, resolute as they were.

The anti-communism of 1930s borne out of fear of Soviet Union and the proclaimed idea about a global revolution has been turned now into equalization of fascism and communism. This has nothing to do with 1930s. This is a new, lifesaving formula for masking the past with the present. Unlike today, the difference between the two ideologies was a common knowledge in 1930s.

The similarity of their opposition to liberalism implied fundamental differences in ultimate goals: for fascism, these goals were militarism, imperialism and racism, while for communism - revolution and equality. In 1930 the fear of revolution was justified and unawareness about fascism was present inasmuch as the wish for not believing in the possibility that the worst could really happen. When the worst became reality and the war already raging, except for overt supporters of fascism, there was almost no one in Europe, even among those who didn't like it, who wouldn't cooperate with communism just to destroy fascism. That was not the case in Yugoslavia. That is why today our interpreters still hold open a major philosophic question - what is collaborationism after all?

Today, communism, which is no longer, and fascism, which is still there, are equalized without any difference between the two. The fact that in 1930s the later was intent to impose racism on the entire world, and the former to prevent it and destroy it, makes no difference for semblable considerations about the past, the reality and the present.

The only similarity between considerations about fascism in 1930s and today is the belief that one can negotiate with it, that it stands for a legitimate interlocutor because it comes to power by democratic means, that it means not what it says and that it can be restrained. Awareness about this delusion came too late in 1930s. Millions and millions of people paid for it with their lives.

And yet, today they are counting victims of fascism and victims of communism so as to normalize the ultimate manifestation of nationalism, fascism, once nationalism itself is normalized. For, say interpreters, there was an evil bigger than nationalism. But they never count the victims of the other side. Does their silence hide recidivism to fascism? Today we cannot tell for sure what kind of fascism will emerge tomorrow and where it will get first installed. And this raises a crucial question: "Who will stand against a new fascism once it becomes strong?"

Who will make up some new international brigades when and if it knocks at the door again? Yapis, brokers? Without strong beliefs in equality of races and equality of people there are no ideals. If there are no ideals, there can be no sacrifice. The road is open to fascism. In thirties it had natural enemies at least. But history never repeats itself and this "Titanic" may be just a farce of "undigested barbarianism."


NO 149-150

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