Source: Myths of the Nations

Forget Tito

After Tito's death the bonding strength which the mutual remembrance of the Second World War had created began to fade. The deficiencies left behind by the "Tito era" were replaced by notions of a nationalistic (and sometimes racist) nature. A situation of crisis developed in the course of the 1970s in which long repressed or silenced "counter-memories" were able to destroy Yugoslavia's images of the past. This occurred first in Serbia, and then in Croatia and the other constituent republics.

By the end of the 1980s not only Yugoslavia was dead, but also the collective memory of the Second World War. The Yugoslavian memory has meanwhile disintegrated into a number of different national memories. After initial free elections in 1990 the real process of disintegration began, which then led to the post-Yugoslavian wars of 1991 and triggered the NATO intervention in Kosovo and former Yugoslavia.

With the death of Franjo Tuđmans at the end of 1999 and the election defeat of Milošević in the fall of 2000 the political situation changed in Croatia and Serbia. The other Croatia and the other Serbia made themselves heard and entered a new round in the re-codification of the past. In the foreseeable future the memory landscapes in the post-Yugoslavian societies will look quite different from those of the 20 th century. For large parts of the population, at least the younger generation, the "pre-war period", i.e. the time before 1991/92, has drifted into the distant past.

Croatia - The Chessboard

After the crisis and collapse of Yugoslavia, Croatia set itself the task of freeing the identity of the nation from its Yugoslavian and Communist accessories and renegotiating its historical memories. Taboos were broken, and the memories of World War II that had deviated from the Socialist picture of history and had thus been considered criminal now found their way back into the public eye. They had been cultivated in the families and in exile. A large part of the Croat population that had been defamed as Ustaše, the Fascist regime during the War, and wounded in their sense of self-worth by the Serbian propaganda felt "unburdened" by the re-codification of public remembrance. At the same time, the nightmare of a national collective guilt that was linked to the crimes in the Independent State of Croatia during the War appeared to disappear. Milestones on the way to a "genuine national memory" were the discussions about the victims of the Second World War.

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb, occupied a paramount position in the Socialist Yugoslavian pantheon of "evil". His advocacy of a Croatian state, his anti-Communism, his refusal to go into exile, and the mobilization potential of the "Stepinac Myth" among the Catholic population were thorns in the side of the regime. The sermons that his successor Franjo Cardinal Kuharić regularly held in the Zagreb Cathedral on February 10 th , the anniversary of Stepinac's death, developed into manifestations of a popular Croat Catholicism, already during Tito's lifetime. They provided sharp competition to the Socialist ceremonies.

Stepinac's official rehabilitation began in the early 1990s. While Serbian authors denounced the cardinal more and more vehemently as a war criminal, the Croat nation gathered around their martyr. In October 1998 Pope John Paul II beatified the cardinal in the Croat national shrine of St. Mary, Marija Bistrica. The Croat state bank issued a memorial medallion on this occasion.

The Serbo-Croat quarrel about the number of victims of World War II flared up around the question of the former Croat concentration camp Jasenovac. In 1968 a memorial with a museum and memorial statue in the form of a flower was erected on the grounds of the camp. The statue was designed by the Serbian architect and later mayor of Belgrade Bogdan Bogdanović. The memorial, designed in contrast to the "socialist-realist funerary art" of the early post-War period, continued to have many visitors over the years.

The picture of the memorial statue can be seen on our poster, but also on souvenirs. Parallel to the Yugoslavian crisis, the Jasenovac camp became the battlefield of Serbian and Croatian memory politics. For Serbs, Jasenovac was the place where Serbs were murdered by Croats, the "biggest Serbian city under the earth", the "biggest torture chamber in the history of mankind". On the Croat side, Jasenovac was played down as a mere "labour camp". Among the victims, Croat anti-Fascists were high up on the list, and the terror of the Ustaša regime against Serbs in the "Independent State of Croatia" during the War was portrayed as merely the reaction to the crimes of the Serbian Chetniks. In autumn 1991 Jasenovac was captured by Serb units and then became part of the Serbian "Republic Krajina", which had split off from Croatia. In May 1995 the Croatian army staged a counterattack and took the area back. The question then arose as to what to do with the neglected place of remembrance. Franjo Tuđman, the President of Croatia, wanted to turn Jasenovac into a national memorial. All Croatian victims of the Second World War, all victims of Fascist and Communist tyranny, all Croats who fell in the "Patriotic War" of 1991-95 should be commemorated there.

Tuđman wanted to go down in the history books as the father figure of all Croatia and the post-Communist Tito. His ideas triggered a heated public debate in Croatia. After his death in 1999 the debate about Jasenovac took on a more dispassionate tone.


Serbia - Eternal Victims

Around the middle of the 1980s a radical process of re-codification of the past was launched in Serbia, and a national Serbian, often religiously charged imagery began to develop. Before the catastrophe broke loose, there was a phase in which a re-evaluation of the history of World War II took place. The climax was the publication of the so-called Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences from 1986. It evoked the "physical, political, legal and cultural genocide of the Serbian population in Kosovo and Metohija".

Faced with the erosion of the Yugoslavian foundation myths, the advocates of this spiritual turning point fought for the acceptance of a new interpretation under ethno-national auspices. The "Croat" Tito was now made responsible for much wrongdoing and suffering borne by the Serbs during the Second World War and afterwards: for the revilement of the Chetniks and their leader Draža Mihailović and especially for the "tripartition of Serbia". The demolition of the Tito Monument in Titovo Užice in 1991 symbolically created room for the "resurrection" of Tito's archenemy, the "war criminal" Mihailović, who now entered the pantheon of Serbian national heroes.

In the atmosphere of spreading paranoia, the events of the Second World War in particular and the relations between Serbs and Croats, Serbs and Albanians as well as Serbs and Bosnian Muslims were re-codified.

Chetnik symbols punctuated public premises and served to fit out post-Yugoslavian warriors. The postcard "Pozdrav sa Ravne Gore" shows a soldier in "typical" Chetnik costume, wearing the (former) Yugoslavian uniform of the 1990s. The depiction of the "neo-Chetnik" turned the negative stereotype spread in Communist propaganda (sheepskin cap and full beard) into a positive image.

The renaissance of Mihailović and the Chetniks as well as the Milošević form of Socialism were in keeping with the attitude of many people. It took away their fear of a change of system with all its social consequences. It offered an emotional substitute for the exhausted ideals of the Tito era and provided a simple explanation for the misery of Serbianism. The plan for a Pan-Serbia and its ethnic cleansing became extremely topical after the collapse of Yugoslavia.

The western Serbian district of Ravna Gora with its Mihailović Memorial built in 1992 soon became a popular object of pilgrimage for Serbian nationalists such as the writer and leader of the "Serbian Renewal Movement", Vuk Drašković. The press organ of the Mihailović cult, the magazine Srpska Reč, demonstrates – not only with this title of the memorial – how the media participate in the establishment of national myths.

The western Serbian district of Ravna Gora with its Mihailović Memorial built in 1992 soon became a popular object of pilgrimage for Serbian nationalists such as the writer and leader of the "Serbian Renewal Movement", Vuk Drašković. The press organ of the Mihailović cult, the magazine Srpska Reč, demonstrates – not only with this title of the memorial – how the media participate in the establishment of national myths.