Serbs and Croats clash over allegations of Nazi pasts
Belgrade court rules Draza Mihailovic did not receive fair trial for treason in 1946
Supporters of Dragoljub “Draza” Mihailovic hold his picture as they celebrate his rehabilitation in front of a court in Belgrade on Thursday. Almost 70 years after his execution, ardent Serbian nationalist Mihailovic remains one of the most divisive figures of Balkan history. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters
Serbia and Croatia have accused each other of trying to burnish the reputation of wartime Nazi collaborators, increasing the strain on Balkan relations as crisis-hit Macedonia braces for potentially explosive street protests.
A Belgrade court ruled that Draza Mihailovic, who led royalist “Chetniks” against the Nazi invasion of Serbia before forming a loose alliance with the Germans to fight communist guerrillas, did not receive a fair trial for treason in 1946.
Hotly debated historyCommunist Yugoslavia executed Mihailovic and portrayed the Chetniks as brutal fascists but, since the federation’s collapse in the early 1990s, wartime history has been hotly debated and Mihailovic is a hero for Serb nationalists.
Riot police stood guard outside the courthouse to prevent clashes between nationalists and their opponents. The verdict highlighted deep cracks in Serb society and even in its ruling elite. Oliver Antic, an adviser to nationalist Serb president Tomislav Nikolic and a member of the legal team arguing Mihailovic’s case, said: “This is a great day for law and justice, not only for the Serbian people but for all decent Yugoslavs.”
By contrast, interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said he was “personally dissatisfied” with the ruling and prime minister Aleksandar Vucic complained that it would only cause division in Serb society.
Officials in neighbouring Croatia were furious. Justice minister Orsat Miljenic called the verdict “a huge mistake, comparable to rehabilitating Hitler.”
“For us, Draza Mihailovic was and remains a criminal. He was a fascist, and that’s it,” he said. Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said she was “very unpleasantly surprised” by Thursday’s decision.
On the same day, however, she paid respects on both sides of the Austria-Slovenia border to Croats whom the communists massacred there at the end of the second World War, in revenge for their bloody collaboration with the Nazis.
Attempted surrenderSeventy years ago, Nazi-allied Croatians who had conducted mass killings of Jews, Serbs and other non-Croats fled in the face of advancing communist guerrillas, and tried to surrender to British troops.
British forces refused to give the Croats protection, and they were executed en-masse by the communists near today’s Austria-Slovenia frontier.
The disputes come at a time of deep turmoil in unstable Macedonia, where critics of its scandal-ridden authorities plan a major protest tomorrow, a day before pro-government forces intend to hold their own rally.