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Balkan holocausts?

Serbian and Croatian victim-centred propaganda and the war in Yugoslavia

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David Bruce MacDonald

Comparing and contrasting propaganda in Serbia and Croatia from 1986 to 1999, this book analyses each group's contemporary interpretations of history and current events. It offers a detailed discussion of Holocaust imagery and the history of victim-centred writing in nationalist theory, including the links between the comparative genocide debate, the so-called Holocaust industry, and Serbian and Croatian nationalism. There is a detailed analysis of Serbian and Croatian propaganda over the Internet, detailing how and why the Internet war was as important as the ground wars in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, and a theme-by-theme analysis of Serbian and Croatian propaganda, using contemporary media sources, novels, academic works and journals.

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Instrumentalising the Holocaust

From universalisation to relativism

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David Bruce MacDonald

There was much in Serbian and Croatian nationalism that relied on the Zionist contribution to the history of ideas. For nineteenth-century Zionists, the presence of anti-Semitism confirmed for some that the only way the Jewish people would be free of persecution was through their own Redemption in a territorially bounded nation-state. Zionists modernised cyclical teleology and used it to create their own state, free from the horrors of centuries of discriminatory legislation, pogrom, and massacre. Perhaps the most important aspect of Zionism, however, was something over which they had little control. The Holocaust, which occurred between 1941 and 1945, saw almost six million Jews systematically killed by the German Nazi regime — arguably the greatest Fall in the history of Judaism. Some viewed the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as the greatest recompense and Redemption since the restoration of the Kingdom some 2,000 years before. An important concept throughout this work is the idea of performing, or acting out, a genocide.

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David Bruce MacDonald

This chapter focuses on the rise of Serbian nationalism and examines many of the important myths that evolved as a concomitant to it. It begins by exploring elements of the Battle of Kosovo, a battle fought between Serbian and Turkish forces on June 28, 1389, which ultimately resulted in Serbian subjugation to five centuries of Ottoman rule. Myths highlighting the glorious but tragic aspects of Serbian history were of central importance in legitimating the dismantling of the Yugoslav Federation, and the expansionist ambitions of Milošević and his colleagues. Kosovo, and more general myths of Golden Age and Fall, were instrumentalised first in the case of the Kosovar Albanians, and secondly, and more importantly, in the case of the Croats. As the conflict progressed, writers came to identify a Serbian version of anti-Semitism — ‘Serbophobia’ — a genocidal and expansionist strategy, supposedly used throughout history by Serbia's enemies. This chapter reviews the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century manifestations of Croatian ‘Serbophobia’, laying the basis for an analysis of World War II, Yugoslavia, and the more contemporary conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

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Comparing genocides

‘Numbers games’ and ‘holocausts’ at Jasenovac and Bleiburg

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David Bruce MacDonald

This chapter reviews two of the most important persecution myths emerging from World War II. Revising the history of the Ustasa-run death camp at Jasenovac was a useful means of casting Serbs as the victims of a ‘Holocaust’ by Croats. On the Croatian side, the massacre at Bleiburg (Austria) by Communist forces (or Serb-led Communists, as the case might be) in 1945 was also likened to the Holocaust. In both cases, the other side was accused of committing genocide, using either the mask of Nazi or Communist domination to justify their atrocities. Of central importance was a ‘game of numbers’, or Ronnie Landau's ‘grotesque competition in suffering’. Serbs and Croats used the Jews as the litmus test for historical suffering, while also trading genocide stories with each other. By inflating their own numbers of dead, and reducing the numbers of enemy dead, they conducted their own comparative genocide debate within Yugoslavia. Both Jasenovac and Bleiburg became emblematic of national suffering and Fall during World War II.

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Conclusions

Confronting relativism in Serbia and Croatia

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David Bruce MacDonald

A teleological understanding of history proved to be of central importance for both Serbian and Croatian nationalist writers during the 1990s. Myths of Covenant, Fall, and Redemption were of particular importance, as was the general theme of good against evil. Serbs and Croats were particularly susceptible to these types of myths because of religion. In trying to analyse the successes and failures of Serbian and Croatian propaganda, we need to understand clearly whether or not any actual genocides took place in the Balkans, either in history, or during the more contemporary period. The comparative genocide debate in Serbia and Croatia was very much akin to the tragedy of the commons — as soon as the Serbs invoked it, Croats, Kosovar Albanians, and Bosnian Moslems all joined in, and picked this stock of metaphors and symbols clean. Was there ever genocide in Serbia or Croatia? Does the comparative genocide debate work as far as the West is concerned? This chapter discusses religious nationalism and ‘ethnic’ nations.

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David Bruce MacDonald

Like Serbia, Croatia also saw the merits of reinterpreting history to buttress their own political objectives. Many of Croatia's most interesting national myths were created well before the collapse of Yugoslavia. Franjo Tudjman's rise to power in 1990, and the eventual independence of Croatia, after almost five decades of Communist federalism, engendered a fertile climate for national myth creation. Croatia's national propaganda evolved within an authoritarian context, and many of the central themes favoured by Croatian writers were similar to those advanced by their Serbian counterparts. The spectre of ‘Greater Serbia’ — which became likened to an anti-Semitism for Croats — was remarkably similar to Serbophobia. Many other myths appeared to be a reaction to a fear and strong distrust of the Serbs. Several, like the ‘state right’ tradition, the Antemurale Christianitatis, and Medjugorje, proved the existence of a civilised, peace-loving and enlightened Croatia. Other myths advanced the claim that the Serbs were religiously, culturally, and racially part of an Eastern and therefore inferior civilisation, while the Croats were more Western, more enlightened, better educated, and more democratic.

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Masking the past

The Second World War and the Balkan Historikerstreit

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David Bruce MacDonald

Throughout the Serbian-Croatian conflict, the comparative genocide debate was of particular importance. In general, Serb and Croat arguments apropos World War II were almost identical. Each argued in favour of their own philosemitism, victimisation, and heroism, while denouncing the others for their treachery, anti-Semitism, collaboration, and genocide. The recent revisions of history from both sides suggest uneasiness about the legacies of the past. Continual portrayals of enemies as either Četniks or Ustasa, as well as constant references to World War II atrocities as precursors of events in the 1990s, demonstrated the centrality of German and Italian occupation to contemporary conceptions of national identity. David Campbell's theory of the ‘deconstruction of historical teleologies’ provides a useful method of understanding how certain narratives, or views of history, have been created. This chapter explores World War II and the rehabilitation of the Independent State of Croatia, Serbian views of the Ustas and Četniks, Croatian views of the Četniks, anti-Semitism in Croatia, Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac and the people, Serbian views of collaboration and anti-Semitism, and the myth of Partisan participation.

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‘Greater Serbia’ and ‘Greater Croatia’

The Moslem question in Bosnia-Hercegovina

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David Bruce MacDonald

In the Bosnian crisis, Serbs and Croats often worked together, and, as early as 1991, Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tudjman had carved up Bosnia on paper. In Bosnia, the Moslems were seen as the primary threat to the creating of larger national states. Serbian and Croatian machinations, including the production of propaganda, thus followed very similar strategies. Incorporating chunks of Bosnia-Hercegovina into Croatia and Serbia became central to the legitimacy of both governments, who had pledged to unite Diaspora nationals throughout the region. This chapter explores the concepts of ‘Greater Serbia’ and ‘Greater Croatia’ as well as the Moslem question in Bosnia-Hercegovina. It first considers the case of the Bosnian Moslems and their Croatian heritage, nationalism and Islam, Serbs and the ‘Moslem traitors’ in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbian perspectives on the Islamic state, the Moslems as genocidal killers, and Croatian views of the Bosnian Moslems.

Open Access (free)

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David Bruce MacDonald

This book explores the rather strange predicament Western observers encountered when trying to understand the collapse of Yugoslavia. It addresses two particular problems: the manipulation of victim imagery, and the powerful war of words that accompanied and often preceded military violence. Of central importance is understanding how and why each side so assiduously chose to portray itself as a victim of genocide. Anyone who followed the conflict from 1991 onwards would have been struck by the constant emphasis on historical victimisation and suffering. This situation paradoxically gave rise to the view that the wars in Yugoslavia were the result of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’ between traditionally hostile ethnic groups. Such propaganda would confuse rather than clarify. While it is important to explore the nature of such imagery, it is also important to understand the philosophical and theological underpinnings of a victim-centred strategy in nationalism, while systematically unravelling and comparing propaganda in Serbia and Croatia. This involves charting how different periods of history have been revised to make a nation's history one of constant danger, defeat, and martyrdom.

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What is the nation?

Towards a teleological model of nationalism

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David Bruce MacDonald

This chapter introduces a useful analytical model to help understand the nature of Serbian and Croatian myths, the types of imagery they invoke, and how they are structured. This will lay the groundwork for a more detailed study of how national myths have been used instrumentally in Serbia and Croatia to promote self-determination, the shifting of borders and populations, and the installation of despotic and corrupt regimes. For the ancient Hebrew nation, a cyclical form of teleology, composed of a Golden Age, a Fall, and a Redemption, constituted what Northrop Frye and others have termed a ‘covenantal cycle’. Covenants imply faith in an omnipresent, omnipotent god, able to guide the nation in times of distress and hardship. Ideas of Covenant, chosenness, Golden Age, Fall, and Redemption have formed the core of several modern nationalisms. Another important aspect of cyclical teleology has been the constant battle between good and evil throughout history — the ‘chosen’ nation versus its many enemies. The links between such mythology and Serbian and Croatian nationalism will become obvious.